- Updated by Faith Barbara Namagembe at 0950 EAT on Wednesday 13 April 2022.
Govt wants to extend vaccination to learners
In government’s bid to stem the spread of Covid-19 among young people, the ministries of Health and Education have resolved to vaccinate all learners aged between 12 and 17 years. The target is to vaccinate seven million learners.The move was originally slated for August but according to insiders, it has been brought forward to May and June in spite of the fact the Covid-19 cases have drastically reduced and its threat no longer rife. The Observer understands that the move is a result of what some Health ministry experts warned that available donated vaccines are about to expire by September 2022.Meanwhile, sources within the Education ministry have also intimated that non-compliance by schools to feed Covid-19 data into the school surveillance system left the ministry with no option but to go with mandatory vaccination of learners. According to sources privy with the preparations, there will be no need for consent of parents before vaccinating the learners if the Public Health (Amendment) bill is passed in the coming days by parliament.Among others, the bill seeks to amend Section 38 of the principal act by mandating a parent or guardian of every child resident in Uganda to cause the child to be vaccinated by a public vaccinator, against the diseases, that may be declared by the minister, within 12 months from birth.When government rolled out the school surveillance system to track Covid-19 infections, the hope was that the two ministries would get daily updates to track the trends of the disease in schools.However, the move seems to have backfired, with only a handful of schools having the capacity to relay the info to the respective ministries. Due to this gap in information and added to the ever-emerging new Covid-19 strains, government has been pushed into a corner of vaccinating the learners.However, the move has come under criticism from various stakeholders, especially from the medical front. Critics claim government should first ensure that the adult population is vaccinated before even considering the learners given that Covid-19 is not a threat to them.“The Health ministry’s own statistics show that children are the least affected demographic with almost a 100 per cent survival rate. So, why should government take a hard stance on Covid-19 vaccination for children even before securing the adults?” Simon Senyonga, a lawyer, reasons.“There is no need for turning the inefficiencies of the ministry into an opportunity to vaccinate young people against their will.”Meanwhile, an immunologist at Mulago hospital who preferred anonymity says there is need for more research before making vaccination of children mandatory.“I’m pro-vaccination but these Covid-19 vaccines can trigger fundamental changes in a child’s immune system,” said a doctor who preferred anonymity for fear of being targeted.“The most alarming aspect of this mandatory vaccination of learners is if damage occurs, it is irreparable and cannot be reversed. For instance, you cannot repair a genetically reset immune system. What is also worrying is that these vaccines have not been fully tested and there is need for at least five years before making it mandatory after understanding all the risks involved.”Last month, members of parliament on the Health committee called for the speedy implementation of the move to vaccinate the learners but while interfacing with private school head teachers, it was brought to them that vaccination should be based on informed voluntary consent, especially for new vaccinations, of which some are still in trial phase.“Parents of our children know their medical history; so, they need to be consulted and educated prior to these vaccinations. Therefore, schools should not be held responsible for the decisions of others,” noted Eric Senyonjo, the proprietor of St Anne’s Preparatory School in Kabowa, who was part of the delegation