Almost 7 000 adolescents aged 12 to 17 are now among the more than 14.44-million people in South Africa who have been vaccinated against Covid-19.
“We managed to register more than 39 000 young people by 4pm on Wednesday, and with almost 7 000 vaccinations [done],” said the department of health’s media relations officer, Foster Mohale.
He said the department was not expecting a high demand from the age group during school hours, but was anticipating long queues from 2pm onwards, as well as on weekends.
“We are encouraged by parents who heeded the call to assist their children with registration and also accompanied them to vaccination sites,” Mohale told the Mail & Guardian.
He said that parents showing up to support their children at vaccination sites was an indication that open and frank discussions had taken place at homes about the benefits of the vaccine.
The department announced this week that it would start with registration and vaccination of those aged 12 to 17 on Wednesday 20 October, in line with recommendations made by the country’s ministerial advisory committee on vaccines.
Children in this age group would receive one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said last week. He said the vaccination would be “beneficial as schools are preparing for end-year examinations to conclude the academic year”.
Parents, caregivers and legal guardians were encouraged to “assist eligible young people to register and vaccinate at their public or private nearest vaccination site”, but were also told that the final choice to vaccinate rested with the child.
The fact that preteens and teenagers have been included in the cohort of those who are eligible for vaccinations — without the consent of their parents — has been met with some strong dissent from some quarters.
Section 12 of the constitution states that everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right to make decisions concerning reproduction, to security in and control over their body, and not to be subjected to medical experiments without their informed consent.
According to Lucy Jamieson of the Children’s Institute at the University of Cape Town:
“Parents have a responsibility to support their children to make good decisions about their health, to ensure that they have thought through the risks and benefits to themselves and their families. But for children over the age of 12 it is their choice and parents also have a duty to respect the child’s decision.”
Jamieson said that section 14 of the Children’s Act protected youngsters from being forced to vaccinate against their will, and that they could approach the court if they felt that their rights were being violated by parents or anyone else.
It would be in the best interests of the eligible adolescents to communicate their decision to vaccinate with their parents or guardians, so that they could take care of them after vaccination, she said.
“If the child has given informed consent the parents cannot take action against the department of health. Remember it is natural to experience some minor side-effects, but serious side effects are extremely rare, and getting Covid-19 is much more dangerous,” Jamieson added.