Govt wants law for forced vaccination or six months in jail

A UPDF medic administers a Covid-19   jab to a man at the Old Taxi Park in Kampala on October 14, 2021. PHOTO / ISAAC KASAMANI 

What you need to know:

  • The proposal is contained in the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021, tabled before Parliament on Thursday afternoon in a plenary session that was chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Ms Anita Among.

The government has proposed tough new laws that make it compulsory for Ugandans to get vaccinated or be fined Shs4 million or be jailed for six months or both, for refusal to comply.

The proposal is contained in the Public Health (Amendment) Bill, 2021, tabled before Parliament on Thursday afternoon in a plenary session that was chaired by the Deputy Speaker, Ms Anita Among.

The Bill was tabled by the State Minister for Trade, Mr David Bahati, who was acting as the Government Chief Whip during the plenary session yesterday.

At the time of tabling of the Bill, the Opposition MPs had stormed out of the House and vowed to boycott plenary sessions for the next two weeks, protesting what they termed as illegal arrests, torture and detention of their colleagues.

The Bill suggests that any persons opposed to the mandatory vaccination exercise as put in place by government through the Ministry of Health at any administrative unit in the country will be fined 200 currency points, which translates into Shs4m.

A currency point is Shs20,000.

“A person who fails or neglects to comply with a requirement made under this section commits an offence and is liable on conviction to a fine not exceeding two hundred currency points or to imprisonment not exceeding six months  or both,” the Bill reads in part.

The move is meant to enable government carry out mass vaccination drives to immunise the people against life-threatening epidemics and or pandemics such as the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The Bill in clause 32 also indicates that all persons found to have knowledge about an outbreak of an epidemic in either humans or animals but refuse to report such an outbreak shall be held as a criminal.

“Any person who becomes aware of any unusual sickness or mortality among any animals, which are susceptible to any of the diseases notified under this Act, shall immediately report the fact to the authority or to a local government council, as the case may be or to any person duly authorised by the authority or a local government council,” the Bill reads in part.

Besides, Clause 19 of the same Bill intends to bestow medical workers with powers to seclude anyone infected with a health condition that is highly infectious as a means of safeguarding the people within a given environment where the ill person stays.

In so doing, the medical workers will monitor and attend to such a person in a secluded place and can only be discharged once the said patient is deemed okay to return and minge with other community members.

If the Bill becomes law, government will scale-up its drive to compel Ugandans to undertake mandatory vaccination exercises as and when announced or launched by Ministry of Health.

The Bill has since been referred to the Parliament’s Committee on Health, which is chaired by the Koboko Municipality MP, Dr Charles Ayume, for further scrutiny.

The Ayume-led committee has up to 45 days within which it is expected to report back to Parliament with a processed Bill for consideration by the House before it can be debated and passed into law or rejected.

While making consultations, the lawmakers on the committee are expected to interact with stakeholders on health as a means of accommodating their views on the contents of the Bill.

In so doing, the stakeholders can either support, object or supplement the provisions of the Bill as prepared by the government to inform the specific shape in which the Bill will be before it is returned to Parliament.

Stakeholders react

The Executive Director of the Uganda National Health Consumers Organisation, Ms Robinah Kaitiritimba, believes government’s move is well-intentioned as it is purposed to protect the citizenry.

“Government has a responsibility to protect people even against themselves. So mandatory immunsation in itself is not a problem. I think it is good that everybody is immunised,” Ms Kaitiritimba told Saturday Monitor in a telephone interview yesterday.

But she opposed the proposed penalties by government and asked the lawmakers to accommodate the views of other stakeholders.

“The conditions are a bit too stringent and that can be discussed so that a compromise is reached on what is reasonable,” Ms  Kaitiritimba said.

However, the programme manager for Initiative for Social and Economic Rights (ISER), Ms Allana Kembabazi, said government should instead get to the roots of why people decline to get vaccinated.

“I understand where government is coming from, but I don’t think whether this is the way to fix the real problem of people not getting vaccinated. I would rather you work on the real concerns of the people,” Ms Kembabazi said.

She said from the findings, government can then generate well-grounded solutions to address  the issue of low vaccine uptake.

“They did a really poor job in building the trust of people in the vaccine, which should have been the way to go. And also, some people just don’t get vaccinated because they don’t want to line up for long hours at vaccination centres,” Ms Kembabazi said.

Ms Kembabazi also suggested that government comes up with incentives as a means of attracting more people to embrace the vaccination exercise.