$1-million fine or prison time for failing to vaccinate children

But attorney bemoans fact that law not enforced

BY KIMBERLEY HIBBERT
Staff reporter
hibbertk@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 24, 2017



PARENTS who refuse to vaccinate their children could find themselves facing a maximum fine of $1 million or 12 months in prison, according to the provisions of the Public Health Act of 1974, Immunization Regulations, 1986, amended in 2013.

According to the Act, any person who contravenes or fails to comply with any part of the provisions of the immunisation regulations shall be guilty of an offence, and shall be liable under summary conviction thereof in a resident magistrate's court to a fine not exceeding $1 million or in default of payment thereof, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months.

The Act further states that these charges apply for each child not adequately vaccinated and the law applies to parents, health workers, and principals or operators of schools.

As it pertains to the number of children being vaccinated compared to the number of live births locally, data from the hospital monthly summary report in the Ministry of Health show that there were 36,022 live births in 2015 and 33,359 live birth in 2016. These figures represent live births in Government hospitals.

With regards to vaccine doses given, the target for children ages 0-11 months in 2015 was 37, 311. The doses given for various vaccines to children ages 0 to 11 months are BCG- 37, 652; the third dose of polio — 34, 512; the third dose of DPT (diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus — 34, 416; the third dose of Hepatitis B — 34,447 and the third dose of haemophilus influenza — 34, 449.

The target for children 12 to 23 months was 37, 841. The doses given for various measles, mumps and ruebella (MMR) vaccines to children include 34,375 for the first dose and 31, 455 for the second dose.

In 2016, the estimated vaccine target for children ages 0 to 11 months was 37, 311. In the same year, the doses given for various vaccines to children 0 to 11 months are BCG — 35, 776; the third dose of polio — 36, 836; the third dose of DPT — 36, 848; the third dose of hepatitis B — 36,700 and the third dose of haemophilus influenza — 36, 792. The estimated target of vaccine doses for children ages 12 to 23 months was 37, 311, while the doses given for various MMR vaccines to children ages 0 to 11 months was 35,424 for the first dose and 31,694 for the second dose.

Attorney-at-law Michelle Thomas said it is mandatory for parents to vaccinate their children, irrespective of whether or not they are home-schooled.

“The intention of the Act is to ensure the child is protected, from a health standpoint, from all the communicable diseases that may affect the child when he or she becomes an adult. To ensure a healthy population, the Act is making it mandatory for every child to be vaccinated, and this has a long-term effect, when you really think about it, on the Government when it comes to health care and providing health care services. The intention of the legislators was to ensure that the population is healthy by making it mandatory and, if not done, impose a fine of $1 million. It is cheaper to get your child vaccinated than to spend a million because you didn't do so. When you look on the penalty, having a fine up to $1 million or up to 12 months in prison, this is a very high-threshold penalty. It shows that the legal implication of breaking this law is very high and it is the intention of the legislator to ensure parents take vaccination very seriously,” she said.

Thomas added: “Most times when laws are formed they are formed for the greater good and good governance of the people. Even though it may trample on cultural beliefs in terms of being injected with vaccines, you need to look at the greater picture. All the diseases vaccination prevents, such as hepatitis B, polio, and other debilitating diseases, you have to weigh that against the cultural norms and beliefs. By failing to vaccinate your child you inherently expose your child to diseases and prevent them from having a wholesome life. In everything you must have a balance — a balance of your cultural views and norms and what is in the best interest of the child. The best interest of the child is being vaccinated so they can have a chance at life and prevent them from getting debilitating diseases that affect how they function at a tender age. People believe a lot of the diseases that vaccines prevent are outdated, but we are a tourist-based country, so that and travelling from country to country can bring back certain diseases, hence the need. Based on interaction, you can always expose a child to the possibility of getting these diseases, so it is always relevant.”

The attorney, however, said that the drawback is that while it is legislated, it is not enforced.

“You don't have someone who goes around and says 'Oh, your child is not vaccinated, let me charge you.' So the biggest drawback is whether parents are aware of this legislation, who enforces this law, who reports it, who brings action against the individuals. This is one of the biggest problems in law — whenever something is legislated, there must be the necessary systems and mechanisms to ensure that if it is breached these persons are brought before the court. How do we ensure there is compliance, who will bring about the action? Without answers to these questions we have what is called a law stated on the books but it does not have any teeth,” she said.

With regards to strong cultural beliefs, a member of the Nyahbinghi Tribe of Rastafarians said that since Rastafari is primarily a movement towards African liberation, the perceptions regarding vaccinations differ from person to person. However, most Rastafari are wary of pharmaceutical companies and the measures they will take to make money and to capitalise, adding that some feel vaccination should be a choice, while others are totally against them as a means of disease prevention.

Of note, the Immunisation Regulations 1986 (amended in 2013) state that all children under the age of seven years must be adequately immunised before entry into school.

But Dr Jodine Jackto-Tafari said the Order of the Nyahbinghi Theocracy Reign has been granted leniency, so if a child presents such a document the school may grant him or her pardon, otherwise some people opt to homeschool their children.

She however made it clear that this is not an exemption, just a letter that the governing body of the Order of the Nyabinghi Theocracy Reign gives parents to prove that the child is a part of the group.

She added that educating the populous goes a far way as most parents just want to be able to give informed consent as to whether or not their children are to be vaccinated.

“Most Rastafari parents heavily scrutinise all that their children ingest, whether food or otherwise, so can you imagine them being forced to have these dead or live pathogens swimming in a soup of additives with questionable side effects injected into their precious babies? Don't get me wrong, I am a scientist at heart and I am fully aware of the thought process behind the invention. My children are vaccinated because I am exposed and they are at risk, but I still maintain that education, transparency, and choice are important,” Dr Jackto-Tafari said.

Additionally, another Rastafarian parent from 12 Tribes, who identified herself as Ophelia, said she needs to get more research from Government, especially given the potential side effects of vaccines.

“There are specific things about vaccines that cause parents to become apprehensive. There are heavy metals, they use cells of aborted foetuses and other things, which you really question how it becomes beneficial,” she said.

With regard to the fine, Ophelia said that before passing such a law, open dialogue should have been had, with proper research facts, then individuals wouldn't opt to not vaccinate and hide in fear.

“Tell us why these ingredients are included. Studies have shown that the administration of the MMR vaccine in boys below three years has negative reaction, so why do we still insist they get this vaccine? I was immunised with MMR and I got mumps and measles along with many others, so what's the effectiveness?” she questioned. “We're saying this is good for children, but where is the research?”

She added that despite her strong views, she does vaccinate her children, but she takes a much more gradual approach.

“I give more space between the immunisations. Their response to vaccines are negative. Some children feel better after they are vaccinated, unfortunately some don't feel better. Why do these children need to be sacrificed? Where's the progressive dialogue in all this? Is this the only way to protect them from diseases? Tell me what's in the vaccines, tell me the effects, let me decide, that's all I'm saying,” she said.

She added that the same way a pregnant woman gets to choose the medications they take based on the side effects, vaccination should be described in detail and there should be another route or option.

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