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Uganda’s Ministry of Health has been advocating for mandatory Covid-19 vaccination for all pupils for months. However, as a result of significant criticism, it has recently slowed.

The rationale behind the ministry’s policy is to safeguard vulnerable individuals by implementing punitive fines for noncompliance because unvaccinated people endanger community health. According to the ministry, to create herd immunity, a significant number of individuals must be vaccinated, and everyone who needs to be vaccinated must be vaccinated.

A bill to amend the Public Health Act is currently in the works. The government now has the authority to vaccinate students without their or their parent’s consent. However, a torrent of recent protests against the program has prompted the administration to back down, citing concerns that requiring people to be vaccinated violates human rights. The government announced intentions in April to establish a statewide immunization program for children aged five to seventeen, with a focus on youths aged 12 to seventeen.

However, a formal work plan for carrying out the exercise in collaboration with the Ministries of Education and Local Government has yet to be prepared. Some critics argue that the rush to immunize children is motivated by a worry that most vaccines would expire in a few months. The repeated postponements of the Public Health Amendment Bill in parliament are the first indications of the government’s unwillingness to adopt mandatory student immunization.

Janet Museveni, the Education, and Sports Minister, stated on May 20 that no school-aged children will be vaccinated against Covid-19 unless their parents or guardians give written consent.

She said, “Parents bring their children in for the Covid-19 vaccine when they are at ease. No one will force them to vaccinate their children if they refuse. It is not necessary. I’m not sure where you got the notion that it was required.”  

Whatever the reason, many Health Ministry officials believe that the Uganda National Expanded Program on Immunization is on track (UNEPI). Previously, about 12 million Ugandans had Covid-19 vaccines. Vaccines, on the other hand, do not prevent virus transmission, and with a 99 percent recovery rate, the need for compulsory childhood immunization remains questionable.

Dr. Clara Wekesa, a doctor, indicated during a recent virtual town hall meeting on child health to examine the risks and benefits of mandating childhood vaccinations that the public has not been adequately prepared or sensitized to engage in this rollout program.

“I understand that vaccination prevents people from getting the virus or being hospitalized, but research on children shows that infection itself is less than 1%,” she explained. “Children must develop natural immunity to defend the body against a variety of diseases or illnesses.”

Meanwhile, Eric Ssenyonjo, principal of St Anne’s Primary School, has indicated that mandating vaccinations for pupils may cause conflict between parents and schools, as well as a serious legal issue.

“Our role as educators is to educate children, not to provide healthcare. So, if you want me to participate in this immunization, the very least I can do is notify the parent ahead of time.” He brought it up.

“Because some children are allergic to sulfur compounds and other contaminants, we only do lab tests, observe the child, and inform the parent when a child becomes ill at school before giving any medication.  In the Covid-19 immunization initiative, the government is now attempting to persuade schools to partner with them rather than parents. That is not something we as educators are willing to accept. We shouldn’t be surrounded by flames.” 

Due to the sensitivity of the situation, several Health Ministry officials and specialists declined to comment. What is clear is that there is growing opposition to forcing childhood immunizations.

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