The Vaccine Reaction – Despite nearly two years of persistent public protests in major cities in Europe1 and Australia, 2 3 the governments currently in power have declined to respond to the deep concerns of significant numbers of people living in western democracies,4 who are opposed to the suspension of civil liberties associated with COVID-19 vaccine mandates and lockdowns.5 6 7 8 9 10 11
Following the direction of World Health Organization (WHO) and U.S. public health officials, European Union (E.U.) and Australian government leaders have maintained that the only way to “stop” the COVID pandemic is universal COVID-19 vaccination of all populations.12 13 About 92 percent of Australians have received one or more doses of COVID vaccine14 and in the Netherlands it is at least 77 percent, with the most populous E.U. countries reporting a vaccination rate of 70 percent or higher.15
Even with the majority of people vaccinated, there have been reports of increases in COVID disease and predictions of more economic hardship for Europe.16 Recently, the governments of Netherlands and Austria announced new lockdowns and COVID-19 vaccine mandates,17 which were met with massive public demonstrations in Vienna, Amsterdam, The Hague, Rome, Brussels and other cities on the weekend of Nov. 19-20, 2021 that turned violent in Rotterdam.18 19 20
VIDEO: Watch footage from recent global protests against COVID vaccine mandates and lockdowns here.
While major European cities have been holding protests in November, there have been demonstrations in Australia21 against continuing restrictions on liberty, such as the freedom to enter public spaces and make voluntary decisions about COVID vaccine use without being subjected to sanctions.22 Media reports describing the pro-liberty protests generally place the blame for increasing social unrest on the continuing COVID pandemic and the minority of people who refuse to get vaccinated,23 24ignoring the
According to the WHO Director-General:
We’re concerned about the false sense of security that vaccines have ended the pandemic and people who are vaccinated do not need to take any other precautions… Vaccines save lives, but they do not fully prevent transmission. Data suggests that before the arrival of the Delta variant, vaccines reduced transmission by about 60 percent. With Delta, that has dropped to about 40 percent.27
Austria: “Peace, freedom, no dictatorship”
On Nov. 19, 2021, the Austrian government announced a new 10-20 day nationwide lockdown that confined Austrians to their homes except to go to work, shop for essentials and exercise. The government also became the first E.U. country to institute mandatory vaccination, giving citizens a Feb. 1, 2022 deadline to get vaccinated.
The next day, tens of thousands of Austrians took to the streets whistling, blowing horns and banging drums in Vienna. Waving Austrian flags, chanting “Resistance” and holding signs that proclaimed “no to vaccination” and “enough is enough” and “down with the fascist dictatorship,” they marched to Heroes’ Square in front of the former Hofburg Palace in central Vienna.28 29
There was another big rally on Nov. 27 in Graz, Sankt Poelten and Klagenfurt. This time they chanted “Peace, freedom, no dictatorship.”30
Austrian Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg was quoted as stating that the country’s 67 percent vaccination rate is too low and as a result “we will never get out of the vicious circle of new waves and new debates on lockdowns.”31 He added:
Every lockdown is a heavy interference in fundamental rights. Compare to that, compulsory vaccination is a minor interference.
However, the leader of Austria’s populist FPO party Herbert Kickl branded the government’s mandatory vaccination announcement as “unconstitutional” and said “Austria is now a dictatorship.” He called on the nation’s high court to intervene and block “totalitarian” measures by a government “that believes it should think and decide for us.”32
Because the government has failed since the beginning of the pandemic, the population now has to pay for it with an unconstitutional mandatory vaccination. In almost two years, the government has not been able to develop effective strategies to protect the people. Instead it has set up new harassment week after week to curtail healthy people in their basic rights bit by bit. And now we have reached a level with compulsory vaccination that nobody actually thought was possible. We cannot and must not put up with that.33
Belgium: “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!”
After COVID cases increased in a population with a 76 percent vaccination rate,34 Belgian government officials announced reinforced COVID-19 restrictions and it triggered a demonstration that drew at least 35,000 people into central Brussels.35 Associated Press reported that protesters were shouting “Freedom! Freedom! Freedom!” and singing the anti-fascist song “Bella Ciao” as they marched to E.U. headquarters.
At the end of the rally as the peaceful crowd was dispersing, some of the protestors started clashing with police, smashing cars and setting garbage bins on fire. The police responded with tear gas and water cannons and 42 protestors were detained with two arrested.
Netherlands: Peaceful Demonstration Against COVID Lockdown Turns Violent
A COVID-related partial lockdown was announced in the Netherlands on Nov. 12 with the government placing limits on home visitors, encouraging work from home and cancelling many public events, which sparked clashes between protesters and police outside the justice ministry in The Hague. Restrictions include closure of bars, restaurants, cafes and supermarkets at 8 pm. daily, while “non-essential” shops must close at 6 p.m. Government officials are considering restricting entrance to indoor public venues to those who have a “corona pass” proving they have been vaccinated or have recovered from the SARS-CoV-2 infection.36
On Nov. 19, seven people were injured when Dutch police used water cannons and fired on anti-lockdown protesters throwing rocks and fireworks, wounding two and arresting 20 people during a demonstration in one of Rotterdam’s main shopping areas. Riot police carrying shields and batons and officers on horseback and in police vans patrolled the streets after the confrontation that left at least one police car burned out and dozens of bicycles destroyed.37 Local media reported that gangs were involved in the rioting, marring what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration.
A local political party leader said:
The center of our beautiful city has this evening transformed into a war zone. Rotterdam is a city where you can disagree with things that happen but violence is never, never, the solution.38
Italy: “People like us never give up”
In Rome on Nov. 20, thousands of Italians gathered in the Circus Maximus, a field that was the site of huge events in the ancient capitol, to protest the “Green Pass” COVID vaccination certificates required by employers, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and gums and public transportation.39 One demonstrator carried a banner in the red, white and green colors of the Italian flag that said, “People like us never give up.”40
Australia: “Less Government, More Freedom”
On Nov. 27, tens of thousands of protesters gathered in Sydney and Melbourne, Australia to protest against mandatory COVID vaccinations. Protests took place in 30 cities and towns across Australia organized by Millions March Against Mandatory Vaccination.41 Draped in Australian flags and carrying signs that said “Never lock down again” and “Less government, more freedom” and “No one can stop the awakening of humanity,” the crowd sang “I am, you are, we are Australian” joined by Australian members of Parliament who oppose vaccine mandates.
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Note: This commentary provides referenced information and perspective on a topic related to vaccine science, policy, law or ethics being discussed in public forums and by U.S. lawmakers. The websites of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) provide information and perspective of federal agencies responsible for vaccine research, development, regulation and policymaking.