SECTION27 has filed heads of argument in support of continued vaccination against Covid-19 for teenagers in ACDP v Health Department case

14 March 2022, Johannesburg – SECTION27 has filed heads of argument with the High Court of South Africa (Gauteng Division, Pretoria) in support of government’s rollout of Covid-19 vaccines for 12- to 17-year-old children, following our admission as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the case of African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) v Minister of the National Department of Health last month.

Now that schools have reopened fully, it is crucial that the adolescent vaccination programme be permitted to continue so that learners in overcrowded classrooms are protected from the worst effects of Covid-19. Together with other non-pharmaceutical interventions like ventilation and the wearing of masks, vaccines are crucial to keeping young people safe from Covid-19 outbreaks while at school, and any campaign to stop the rollout of vaccines to children puts them – and their human rights – at risk. Vaccination of adolescents for whom it is medically safe to do so must be allowed to continue to prevent against school closures or rotational timetables in future, which have been shown to have disastrous effects on learners’ educational outcomes and mental health.

Because so many public schools have infrastructure challenges and difficulties with overcrowding, vaccination of adolescents is an equality and discrimination issue. Statistics show that girls are more likely to have been vaccinated against Covid-19 than their male counterparts, and that the majority of teen vaccinations have happened in the public sector. This means that if the ACDP and their recently formed partners (Free the Children – Save the Nation, Caring Healthcare Workers Coalition and COVID Care Alliance) get their way, the impact of their interdict banning vaccination for teenagers would be disproportionately felt by children who are girls, poor, and attending under-resourced and overcrowded public schools. If faced with potential future school closures because of Covid-19 outbreaks, these learners would also suffer most, and inequality in basic education sector would be perpetuated. 

SECTION27 believes that an interdict suspending the vaccination of adolescents would violate children’s rights to equality, access to healthcare services, basic education and section 28(2) of the Constitution which states that a “child’s best interests are of paramount importance in every matter concerning the child”. The ACDP and their partners – who have failed to show how they have any history of working in the best interests of children – seek to deny anyone who does not share their beliefs about vaccination the choice to protect themselves, their children, fellow learners and school communities. Their case is based on discredited information about vaccination, which the National Department of Health have addressed through expert evidence from Dr Nicholas Crisp and Professor Salim Abdool Karim. SECTION27 welcomes efforts to make vaccines more accessible to young people, like the joint efforts between the Department of Basic Education and Department of Health to offer mobile vaccination units in ‘Back To School’ roadshows held earlier this month.

We question what motivates the ACDP and their partners to bring this case, and question their standing for a concurrent appeal to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) surrounding the use of Pfizer vaccines for teenagers.  We are concerned that ACDP and their partners, then, are not genuinely acting on behalf of best interests of children whom they claim to speak for, but are instead motivated by making the roll-out of vaccines to teenagers  a divisive ‘wedge issue’ aimed at attracting a conservative constituency. SECTION27 maintains that the constitutional rights of learners, particularly those in under-resourced state schools, must come above the political ploy on the part of the ACDP and its co-applicants.

You can read our heads of argument here. We will advance these arguments orally in court between 28 and 29 April 2022.


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