SECTION27: Adolescent vaccinations must continue to protect learners in overcrowded schools
SECTION27 admitted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in teenager vaccination case
22 February 2022, Johannesburg – – SECTION27 was today admitted as amicus curiae (friend of the court)in the case of African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) v Minister of the National Department of Health. Our application to be admitted as amicus curiae was heard on the unopposed roll before Judge Tolmay of the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division, Pretoria).
The ACDP is determined to suspend the rollout of vaccines to adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17. The ACDP’s arguments, based on widely discredited medical opinions, claim that Covid-19 vaccines pose a risk to adolescents. Their evidence has also been refuted on behalf of the National Department of Health by some of South Africa’s foremost medical experts including Professor Salim Abdool Karim. SECTION27 supports the evidence put forward by the DoH. We believe that suspending the rollout of vaccines to teenagers is not in the best interests of children and may lead to violations of their rights to basic education, health equality and nutrition.
With the recent announcement that all secondary schools are now required to reopen fully, with social distancing rules and rotational timetables scrapped, SECTION27 believes vaccination is an even more necessary measure to keep teenagers safe.
Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective at preventing severe cases and deaths from Covid-19 in young people. Data shows that 378,000 children got Covid-19 between March 2020 and 4 December 2021. In that period, 20,346 children went to hospital for Covid-19 and tragically 658 children died from Covid-19. Vaccination of teenagers must be allowed to continue to protect more young people from hospitalisation and death from Covid-19.
Particularly in contexts where classrooms are overcrowded and poorly ventilated, vaccination is one of the best tools that we have to prevent large outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools and protect teenagers from severe cases of Covid-19.
More than 1.4 million teenagers have now been vaccinated against Covid-19 in South Africa, but only around 200,000 of those have received two shots of Pfizer and are therefore fully vaccinated. This represents as little as 3.26% of all teenagers fully vaccinated, according to national health data. With more than 6.2 million adolescents eligible for vaccination, to suspend the vaccine programme for this age group now would jeopardise the rights of millions of young people around the country.
Vaccination is one of the best tools that we have to prevent the need for future school closures and rotational timetabling, both of which have had grave impacts on learners’ educational outcomes, mental health, and access to key socio-economic safety nets such as the National School Nutrition Programme (NSNP) that feeds approximately 9 million learners at school daily. To avoid negative impacts on children’s rights to basic education, health and equality, amongst other rights, vaccination must be allowed to continue.
In the absence of social distancing and rotational timetabling, vaccinations are crucial to keeping young people safe from Covid-19 outbreaks while at school. In our papers filed with the court, available here, we argue that because of the extent and impact of overcrowding, vaccination of adolescents for whom it is medically safe to do so is an essential tool towards regaining normality as well as health and safety in schools.
The matter is due to be argued between 28 and 29 April 2022. SECTION27, now admitted to the case, will offer the court assistance in understanding the current context of schools in South Africa and how the continuation of vaccination of adolescents will further children’s rights to health and basic education as well as a host of other rights.
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