In many countries, the vaccination campaign has left vulnerable groups behind, the Fundamental Rights Agency in Vienna warns.

FRA Director Michael O’Flaherty urged EU countries to ensure “equitable access to vaccines throughout all stages of national campaigns.”

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Migrants and prison inmates are often not considered as priority groups despite having a higher Covid-19 infection risk than the general population

FRA’s latest country bulletins, entitled “Coronavirus pandemic in the EU – fundamental rights implications”, identify gaps in vaccine strategies and rollout which the agency says must be addressed. By prioritising the vaccination of older people and those with medical conditions, countries had sometimes overlooked other at-risk groups. For example, only a third of all EU countries consider prison inmates as a priority group despite an increased risk of infection due to crowded living conditions. Not all countries adhere to international guidance on prioritising vulnerable groups, such as Roma and Travellers, homeless people, or those with drug dependencies, the FRA said.

Information policies

Moreover, homeless people, asylum seekers and irregular immigrants, were often not covered by national health insurance schemes and faced difficulties accessing vaccines. In response to that, some EU countries waived the formal requirement of having a social security number to get a shot. The FRA was also critical of the information policy by national health authorities for people with disabilities or those who do not speak the national language well, like migrants or ethnic minorities.

Migrants in particular have been affected disproportionately by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, only Austria, Croatia, Cyprus and Germany included persons who did not legally reside in the respective country in the priority groups for vaccination. This was particularly problematic in the migrant camps in Greece, where the vaccination campaign began only very recently.

Restrictions lifted

During the first phase of the vaccination rollout, member states had not always followed EU guidelines, the FRA said. For example, people with disabilities were not considered a priority group in three EU member states, Estonia, Poland and Slovakia. Similarly, only seven of the 27 member states treated homeless people as a priority when it came to vaccination, said the report.

Nevertheless, the quarterly FRA bulletin also said that good progress in vaccinating people across the EU had been made in recent weeks, an essential requirement for lifting restrictions to fundamental rights. A number of countries recently lifted prioritisation and made Covid-19 vaccines available to everyone. This is the case in Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Luxembourg and Portugal.

Read the FRA country reports here

Author: Michael Thaidigsmann