Parliament has rejected the proposed compulsory vaccination of adults that is provided for under the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021. The government had proposed under the bill that was approved on Tuesday that people who fail to comply with a requirement for vaccination would be fined up to Shs four million or serve a jail term of six months.
The Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, proposed in the bill that in the event of an occurrence or outbreak of any disease that requires vaccination or revaccination for residents, a local government council shall issue a public notice requesting all persons to undergo inspection, vaccination, and revaccination.
She proposed that a person who fails or declines to comply with the requirement commits an offense and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding 200 currency points, which is equivalent to four million shillings, or imprisonment not exceeding 6 months, or both.
The bill proposed the same penalty for a parent or guardian who fails to present their child for vaccination within 12 months of birth. However, while considering the Bill during a plenary chaired by the Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, the Opposition in a minority report tabled by the Shadow Minister of Health, Dr. Timothy Batuwa, disagreed with compulsory vaccination.
Batuwa presented his minority report after Dr. Charles Ayume, the Chairperson of the Health Committee, presented his report to the House endorsed by the majority members of the committee.
“The majority committee report made a slight adjustment to this proposal and guided to having the Minister have this instruction gazetted and published in a newspaper of wide circulation.” The majority committee report agreed to insert a new Section 48A, which mandates the Minister to meet certain conditions first before requiring everyone to be compulsorily vaccinated. “We disagree with the majority committee on giving powers to the Minister to order for compulsory vaccination, the insertion of Section 48A notwithstanding,” said Batuwa.
The Jinja South Division West MP recommended that the proposed amendment be modified to subject the Minister’s statutory order for compulsory vaccination to parliamentary approval.
In his report, Ayume recommended that the Minister not require any person to be vaccinated or revaccinated unless the vaccine to be administered is approved by Cabinet to be safe for the health of the person required to be vaccinated or revaccinated.
The other condition fronted by Ayume is a statutory instrument issued by the Minister with detailed information indicating the eligible and ineligible persons, health risks, and benefits of the vaccine so required to be administered, among others.
The other conditions were that the Minister should have a statutory instrument establishing the vaccine adverse effect reporting and management system.
The Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among, asked Dr. Aceng whether she was aware that a section of countries have already outlawed compulsory vaccination of people. The Minister responded in the affirmative, saying that the vaccination would not be mandatory but regulations would be issued.
After this consensus before the MPs would vote on each clause in the Bill, the Minister changed her mind later during the committee stage of the whole House, saying that vaccination for all should be upheld in the Bill.
This did not go down well with a section of MPs who said that they would not be part of a process endorsing compulsory vaccination. “We have built consensus that we don’t accept a blanket compulsory vaccination.” May be we first stand over this issue, “Jessica Ababiku, the Adjumani Woman MP, said.”
Connie Galiwango, the Mbale City Woman MP, said that compulsory vaccination would put citizens at risk and that she could not be part of it.
Sarah Opendi, Tororo Woman MP, said that Parliament needs to be careful not to infringe on the rights of Ugandans while considering the Bill.
Odur Jonathan, the Erute South MP, then proposed that the proposed penalty by the government on anti-vaxxers be deleted, and Minister Aceng conceded.
The bill amends the Public Health Act to repeal the obsolete provisions, revise the fines for offenses committed under the Act, and repeal the Venereal Diseases Act and the Immunization Act of 2017, among others.
Its tabling before Parliament followed a notification in December 2021 by Health Minister Aceng that she would table a proposed law on public health to provide for mandatory vaccination, the wearing of masks and others.