By Sarah Achen Kibisi.
Legislators have passed the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021 with the proposed mandatory vaccination rejected.
The MPs deleted clause 47 (2) which prescribed a fine of Ushs1 million or imprisonment not exceeding three months for those who fail or neglect to comply with provisions on vaccination and revaccination.
The decision was reached at as the House processed the bill in a sitting chaired by the Speaker, Hon. Anita Among.
The Bill proposed vaccination or re-vaccination in the occurrence or threatened outbreak of any disease in any authority, local government or where it is necessary to conduct vaccination or revaccination for all the residents or specified groups.
Attempts by the Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng to justify and explain to MPs that the provisions of the Bill did not imply mandatory vaccination met resistance.
“You have to protect everyone. Northern Uganda had a yellow fever outbreak and it became necessary to vaccinate everyone. There is nothing wrong with the statement. I still believe that the clause should be upheld,” she said.
The Chairperson of the Committee on Health, Dr. Charles Ayume who presented the report on the bill recommended that government should provide all the necessary information and education about any disease and the vaccine.
” Create awareness about the importance of vaccination in order to promote voluntary health seeking behavior like vaccination,” he said.
Erute South MP, Hon. Jonathan Odur however, argued that by providing for penalties, the vaccination or revaccination becomes mandatory.
Kassanda North MP, Hon. Patrick Oshabe Nsamba said that there is no reason Ugandans should be subjected to mandatory vaccination.
“The Bill states that a person who fails to comply is liable on conviction to a fine. That statement alone is mandatory and that cannot be accepted,” Nsamba said.
Mbale City Woman MP, Hon. Connie Galiwango gave an example, claiming that residents in her constituency aged 70 and above who were subjected to Covid-19 vaccination died.
“Making it a blanket provision puts some people at risk,” Galiwango said.
Tororo District Woman MP, Hon. Sarah Opendi pointed out that whilst it is okay to make vaccination of children against immunisable diseases compulsory, adults should not be subjected to mandatory vaccination.
“Look at two sides, health and human rights and this is where we should be careful when passing the Bill. Let us be careful not to make adult vaccination compulsory,” said Opendi.
The Shadow Minister of Health, Dr. Timothy Batuwa in his minority report dissented from the committee’s recommendation to give powers to the Minister of Health to order for compulsory vaccination.
“Modify the amendment to subject the minister’s statutory order for compulsory vaccination to parliamentary approval,” said Dr. Batuwa.
In the report, signed by Dr. Batuwa and Hon. Nicholas Kamara (FDC, Kabale Municipality), they called for inclusion of patients’ rights and duties as well as health service providers’ rights and duties in the Bill.
The new law, on the other hand, upheld the vaccination of children of 12 months within birth against the immunisable diseases that may be declared by the Minister of Health.
“Where a vaccinator is of opinion that any child is not in a fit state to be vaccinated or revaccinated, the vaccinator shall issue in respect of that child, a certificate to that effect and indicate where applicable the date at which the child is to be vaccinated or revaccinated,” read the Bill in part.
Schools will also be required by the new law to ensure a child is immunised before they are admitted into daycare, pre-primary or primary school.
The law prescribes a fine of Shs1 million or imprisonment of three months for a person who contravenes the provisions on immunisation of children.
Ayume added that the new law will further regulate operations of mortuaries, funeral homes and cemeteries.
“These areas are not regulated. Cemeteries have been reclaimed and repurposed into malls and yet we need to respect the dead,” Ayume said.
The Bill sought to amend the Public Health Act by repealing obsolete provisions (building and construction and public sewers) and Acts, the Venereal Diseases Act, Cap. 284 and the Immunisation Act, 2017 to bring back the provisions on vaccination into the main public health law.
The Bill also sought to revise fines for offences committed under the Act and to embrace a one health approach to disease surveillance and response ■