Mixed feelings over youngsters not needing parents’ permission to get Covid-19 vaccine
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Johannesburg - Children between the ages of 12 and 17 will on Wednesday be able to to get vaccinated. And they don’t permission from their parents.
Yesterday Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced that from October 20, children will be able to receive a dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
He told a media briefing that this was following advice from the Ministerial Advisory Committee, who advised that those in the 12-17 age group should only be given a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine. This was a precautionary measure as there had been a few cases of myocarditis – the inflammation of the heart muscle – in teenage boys.
“At this stage there’s been no indication that the first dose has any serious side effects so for now it will be just one, but we believe it will still offer significant protection and once more information comes we will offer the second dose. The timing of the second dose will be informed by further information,” the health minister said.
The department’s acting director-general, Dr Nicholas Crisp, said vaccinations would not take place at schools.
“For this period of the national vaccination programme children can be vaccinated at all public and private vaccination sites just like everyone else,” he said.
The Children's Act 38 of 2005 provides that children over the age of 12 years can consent to their own medical treatment provided they are sufficiently mature and have the mental capacity to understand the benefits, risks, and social and other implications of the treatment.
To some, though, the minister’s announcement brought anger.
“It's ridiculous,” said parent *Ruwayda Fredericks when he heard the news. “Kids need our permission for everything else, so why not to get vaccinated? I am offended that government can simply say to children to go get vaccinated. Never mind what your parents say. Never mind that they are the ones who support you with everything else. I will not allow this.”
Another parent, *Sam Kinnear, said he would go as far as to refuse his children permission, even if they asked him for permission.
“I will not be told what to do in my own home. There isn't enough research to show that the vaccines are safe for children. We don't even know if it is safe for adults. My kids are vaccinated for other diseases, anyway. That is my choice,” he said.
“Not in agreement to this! No proper stats, so no vaccination … ” added parent Melanie Dewey
Others welcomed the news with mixed feelings.
“It’s a very important step that the government has taken and we applaud them,” said Lynne Cawood, director of Childline’s Gauteng branch.
“They probably don’t need it as much as the older people do, but it will ensure that their parents are not exposed to Covid-19 and they will live longer,” said Cawood, adding that South Africans can’t afford another generation of millions of orphans, as was seen during the HIV/Aids pandemic.
Cawood said however that it was important that children received the consent of their parents first before taking the vaccine.
“There is a lot of controversy, and so it’s important that children get the approval of their parents first,” said Cawood.
She said her organisation was also available 24/7 to children who would like to discuss any concerns they had about getting the vaccine.
The Johannesburg Child Advocacy Forum (JCAF) said they had a number of questions regarding the rollout of vaccines for children.
“I wonder how children will get access? Will it be freely accessible? I work with a number of undocumented children, how will they get vaccinated? And those in care? Those living on the streets?” said Annelie du Plessis, a spokesperson for the JCAF.
“How will information about this be disseminated/presented/accessed? What about those not wanting to get vaccinated? Will schools require this (along with your clinic card) to enrol you?”
Other countries have also recently moved to vaccinate children. In the UK parental consent is sought for children when getting the vaccine. However if a child can prove they understand the risks and benefits of the vaccine they can ask for or refuse it. But while some are against it, others see it as an important step in the fight against the pandemic and saving lives.
“This is the best news ever. We have lost so many relatives and friends and our kids have remained vulnerable. I didn't know that the kids don't need their parents' permission, but in my opinion, they don't need it. These are life saving drugs. We all want to go back to normal lives,” said *Akeel Adams.
Additional reporting IOL
*Not their real names.