The government will not force children to get vaccinated against Covid-19, the minister of Education and Sports Janet Museveni has said.
The minister made the remarks on Wednesday during a press briefing at State House Nakasero. She said that the vaccination of children will need consent from parents. Mrs Museveni noted that she is aware that the current legal regime requires that one should get consent before being vaccinated. She said that the parents can as well take such decisions on behalf of their children.
"Children are advised, and parents are advised to have their children vaccinated because there is a vaccine from Pfizer which is for children. So it is an advice to parents. Parents, when they feel free to take their children for vaccination, they do it, if they don’t want to vaccinate their children nobody will force them, it is not compulsory," she said.
Recently, the ministry of Health revealed that they were arranging to vaccinate 16 million children aged between 5 and 12 years. According to their plans, the vaccination is expected to be carried out in the months of May and June during a mass vaccination exercise. However, some parents have raised concerns - with many of them asking government not to impose vaccine mandates on children.
Dr Joyce Moriku Kaducu, the state minister for Primary Education, also added that the issue of vaccination of children is still under discussion between the two ministries to see how best it will be handled to ensure the exercise is successful.
Prior to the reopening of schools, the government encouraged people, especially those in priority groups like teachers and the elderly to get vaccinated. While persons in this group had to consent to get the jab, their choice, especially for teachers, was taken away when President Yoweri Museveni who are vaccinated would be allowed on school premises.
However, it remains unclear under which conditions learners who are not vaccinated will be allowed in schools. Although scientific research suggests that children are not susceptible to the disease as adults, new variants coupled with the uncertainty of when the pandemic could end, children are being looked at as a group that needs to be protected against Covid-19 infections since they can spread the disease to elderly relatives who are highly susceptible and can even succumb to the disease.
Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, the minister of Health last week urged parents to vaccinate their children against the disease.
"Each parent needs to know that Covid-19 still exists and that vaccination offers protection against the disease. I and many officials at the ministry of Health have vaccinated our children. My 12-year-old daughter is vaccinated," she said.
The need for parental consent for vaccination might however become void if the amendments to the Public Health Act are passed by parliament. Among others, the bill seeks to amend Section 38 to make it mandatory for all parents to vaccinate their children against a disease of public concern like Covid-19.
The need to vaccinate learners comes after schools failed to adhere to the school re-opening guidelines that were aimed at creating safe environments for schools amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. One of the guidelines was that schools were supposed to carry out surveillance to enable health and education officials to easily identify possible clusters of disease. But few schools provided daily updates.
Now, with the lifting of the ban on school visitation and games days, officials from the Health and Education ministries say it is important for children to get vaccinated. Health officials however note that vaccination should not replace the wearing of facial masks as the vaccines cannot prevent infections.
The First Lady also said that the ministry will review the school standard operating procedures given the fact that there have been changes in the status of the disease in the entire country with registered cases dropping.