News Item

Covid-19 vaccination: Ensuring equal access

Vials of covid vaccine
Markus Mainka ©, 2021
Vaccination campaigns are beginning to bring results in the global struggle to tackle the Covid-19 pandemic. But there are setbacks in some countries. Particularly people in vulnerable situations, such as prisoners, homeless people and migrants, risk to be left behind in the deployment of Covid-19 vaccination, finds the Fundamental Rights Agency’s (FRA) latest Coronavirus bulletin. FRA calls on EU countries to ensure fair and equal access to vaccines for all.

"Covid-19 vaccination campaigns are a welcome boost as society returns to normality and many people regain access to their fundamental rights,” says FRA's Director Michael O'Flaherty. “However, unprecedented vaccination mobilisation efforts risk overlooking vulnerable groups. EU countries need to take care no one is left behind by guaranteeing equitable access to vaccines throughout all stages of national campaigns.”

FRA’s latest Coronavirus pandemic in the EU – fundamental rights implications bulletin focuses on equal access to vaccines from planning to rollout. It reveals how countries used varied channels and media to reach diverse groups, including so-called ‘hard-to-reach’ groups.

Vaccination registration was typically offered both online and offline to bridge digital divides and to make it easily accessible to all. Similarly, many countries established mobile vaccination services. This allowed older people, people in remote areas, the homeless or those with reduced mobility to get vaccinated.

But the bulletin also identifies gaps in vaccine strategies and rollout that need addressing:

  • Prioritisation – the focus on older people, those with medical conditions and key workers sometimes overlooked other at-risk groups. Only one third of EU countries class detainees as a priority group despite an increased risk of infection due to crowded living conditions. Not all EU countries adhere to international guidance on prioritising vulnerable groups, such as Roma and Travellers, homeless people, or those with drug dependencies.
  • Queue jumping – allegations of non-priority people receiving vaccines in some Member States undermine trust in the fairness of national strategies.
  • Access – prisoners, homeless people, asylum seekers and irregular migrants, who are often not covered by national health schemes, face difficulties accessing vaccines. But some countries waive the formal requirement of having a social security number to get vaccinated.
  • Information – countries rarely provide accessible information for people with disabilities or in different languages for those who do not speak the national language well, like migrants or ethnic minorities.

The bulletin highlights encouraging progress in vaccinating people across the EU. However, it also draws attention to challenges that remain to ensure there is fair and equal access to vaccines that respects international guidance. Vaccine equity will lessen the economic and social cost of the pandemic and protect the social rights of those most at need.

This bulletin covers 27 EU countries from 1 March – 30 April 2021.

FRA’s Fundamental Rights Report 2021 takes a closer look at how the pandemic affected fundamental rights across the EU throughout 2020.