Ombudsman Maiava Iulai Toma, has made it clear that the rights of the parents to deny the children measles vaccination is overruled when it comes to the safety of children in a deadly health epidemic.
He gave his position in response to the current argument of the rights of parents to decide what is best for their children that included not having them vaccinated.
Maiava took into account the medical findings of the World Health Organisation and the UN Children’s Fund, to determine why parental rights in the care of the child is overruled.
He is aware of the fears by parents and the general public with the deaths of two children from vaccination injections last year.
“These deaths were due to errors and not to the vaccine used. Statistics and internationally evaluated scientific research reassure us that vaccines are very safe.”
Maiava felt it was unnecessary for public skepticism of the vaccines and other health fears to scare the parents and guardians into refusing vaccination for the children.
He remains convinced that the “risks associated with vaccination can never be totally eliminated but the benefits of vaccination in our view greatly outweigh the risks.”
“On the other hand, vaccination has been shown time and time again to prevent illness and deaths from dangerous and highly contagious diseases such as measles.”
Maiava offers his condolences at the death toll from the measles epidemic but stands firm on the national vaccination campaign as in “the best interest of the child to protect him or her from the measles.”
“This protection applies to not only ONE child but to all the children.
“If there is a high risk of one individual affecting the health of the many, the individual is morally obligated to safeguard the wellbeing of the many and to ensure their children are vaccinated.
“In other words the argument for individual right to choose whether to vaccinate or not shall not be an option when the collective health of the wider community is at risk.”
Maiava was asked for his reaction by Newsline Samoa to the conflicting issue of human rights for the children, parents and the national state of emergency mass vaccination campaign.
Reprinted are the questions and his response :
1) So with the vulnerability of kids as they cannot understand what's good for them, how does this work?
● How crucial is it for parents to make the decision based on the need of the child on his/ her behalf?
CRC is clear in respect to parents’ rights, duties and responsibilities to provide direction and make informed decisions in respect to the development and health of their children The CRC provides that "the child, by reason of his physical and mental immaturity, needs special safeguards and care, including appropriate legal protection, before as well as after birth”. In other words, when children aren’t in the position to understand and make decision, parents are solely responsible to make decisions based on what is good and in the best interest of the child.
2) What is the child's right when it comes to health and vaccines?
● How parents are held accountable when it comes to decisions like vaccination of their kids?
● Are parents doing the right thing or are they preventing vital medical protection of their kids from measles?
From a human rights perspective, every human being, including children, are entitled to the enjoyment of the ‘highest attainable standard of health’ (children’s right to health). In achieving this highest attainable standard of Health, vaccinating against dangerous communicable diseases is proven and internationally accepted as essential for the protection and wellbeing of populations.
Given the accidental deaths recently of two babies while being vaccinated, concerns by parents and the general public with regards to the risks associated with immunizing their children is expected and understandable. These deaths were due to errors and not to the vaccine used. Statistics and internationally evaluated scientific research reassure us that vaccines are very safe. Most vaccine reactions are minor and temporary, such as a sore arm or mild fever. Serious reactions are extremely rare and are carefully monitored and investigated. Individuals are far more likely to be seriously harmed by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine. For example...measles can cause pneumonia, encephalitis, blindness and as we have experienced in Samoa can result in death”.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “Immunization is a proven tool for controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases and is estimated to avert between 2 and 3 million deaths each year. It is one of the most cost-effective health investments”. According to UNICEF “Immunization saves 2-3 million lives each year…vaccine play a central role in ending preventable child deaths”. The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has affirmed and emphasized government obligation to ensure that the benefits of immunization reach “all children who need them.''
While balancing the individual right to refuse vaccines with the collective right to health it was found by WHO researchers that “ Parent’s refusal to get vaccinated or to vaccinate their children can cause collective harm by incrementing the pool of unprotected, susceptible individuals in a community. With herd immunity compromised, devastating disease outbreaks can occur. In these settings, individuals are morally obligated to accept vaccination to prevent harm to others”
Therefore, we as parents must ensure that our children are prevented from devastating diseases by ensuring that they receive vaccination.
3) How important are these for all guardians to follow through?
● Where is the line drawn when it comes to a child's right to medical needs? Like vaccines?
It is very important for all guardians to follow through to ensure that our children’s right to health is upheld: because it is our responsibility as guardians/parents to ensure our children are provided with the best attainable health care. Furthermore, it is an objective of States to ensure the availability and accessibility of children to the highest attainable health care.
4) This has been a controversial topic lately, with whether children should be vaccinated or not what is the Office of the Ombudsman's stance on this particular issue where people are skeptical of the vaccines with some retreating because of fear of health complications?
Refer to paragraph 2 above. In brief, the vaccination of children is ensuring that their right to receive the highest attainable health care is upheld. The risks associated with vaccination can never be totally eliminated but the benefits of vaccination in our view greatly outweigh the risks. On the other hand, vaccination has been shown time and time again to prevent illness and deaths from dangerous and highly contagious diseases such as measles.
5) How does the order of State of Emergency uphold the rights of individuals who refuse to vaccinate?
Aside from the State ensuring that children have access to the highest attainable health care services, the CRC requires all, including States, who exercise authority over children to observe ‘the best interest of the child’ principle in decision making. The Government is urged to place children’s best interest in the center of all decisions affecting their health and development.
This obligation as indicated above is placed on administrative authorities and legislative bodies, courts, public and private social welfare institutions to ensure that the best interests of the child is assessed and taken as a primary consideration in all actions affecting children. This principle must be observed in all health-related decisions concerning individual children or children as a group.
In the sad situation of an epidemic that kills, decisions have to be made in the best interest of the child to protect him or her from the measles. This protection applies to not only ONE child but to all the children. As noted earlier, if there is a high risk of one individual affecting the health of the many, the individual is morally obligated to safeguard the wellbeing of the many and to ensure their children are vaccinated.
In other words the argument for individual right to choose whether to vaccinate or not shall not be an option when the collective health of the wider community is at risk.