Lawyers and health rights activists are calling upon government to stop COVID-19 vaccine mandates because they are illegal. These are being introduced by several organisations across the country inspite of the vaccine inequity in the country.
As a means to stop the spread of COVID-19, some government offices like the ministry of health, the National Medical Stores(NMS), local government offices and even private run facilities like gyms have restricted access to their premises on the basis of COVID-19 vaccination. Persons who are not vaccinated can no longer access these offices.
These actions are backed by proclamations by President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni directing that only vaccinated teachers be allowed in schools once education institutions re-open. Water vessels such as MV Kalangala have also issued similar directives to staff.
Now health rights activists want government to be considerate and stop such mandates from being passed because they are not legal. They say there is no law in existence which gives such establishments the right to stop unvaccianted persons from accessing services from such places.
Dr. Amon Aruho, a health rights lawyer and activist says the all the mandates that have been issued to date are illegal since they are not backed up by the law. He says Ugandans cannot be penalized for not getting vaccinated yet they do not know where to go to get a vaccine.
Similarly, Micheal Aboneka, a lawyer and partner at Thomas and Micheal Advocates, a law firm says even if vaccination is good, it has no legal mandate backing it up. He says according to the law, the current mandates that have been issued by public organisations such as NMS are not legal.\
According to data from the Health ministry, so far 2,854,082 persons have been vaccinated with at least one dose of a vaccine. Less than 70,000 people are fully vaccinated. In search circumstances, Dr Aruho says while vaccination is good and a sure way to protect people against severe forms of disease,more sensitization is needed before vaccine mandates can be issued.
The Public Health Act and the Immunization Act gives the health minister the legal mandate to declare laws that might help stop the spread of an infectious disease like COVID-19.
Moses Mulumba, a lawyer and the director of the Center for Health, Human Rights and Development says while the minister of health has powers to declare vaccination mandates a necessary tool to curb the spread of COVID-19, these powers have been hindered by her inability to declare COVID-19 as a pandemic locally.
He says this failure has curbed her powers and authority in regard to making strong proclamations as far as COVID-19 is concerned.
Uganda is one of many countries in the world where vaccination mandates have been issued. In countries like the U.S and Canada, mandates have been issued though met with public outcry with some people deciding to resign from their jobs instead of being vaccinated.
Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the minister of health recently said the vaccination mandates were instituted at the health ministry because staff there are supposed to act in an exemplary way by getting vaccinated. She said that since staff have easy access to the vaccines, there’s no excuse why they should not get vaccinated. Since then, some reports indicate that unvaccinated staff have been denied entry in the health ministry offices.
In a similar way, a statement signed by the NMS Principal Public Relations Officer, Sheila Nduhukire intimated that all staff had to lead by example and get vaccinated.
“As a government agency mandated to buy, store and distribute medicines (including COVID-19 vaccines), we are leading by example and ensuring that all our staff and visitors coming to our premises are fully vaccinated to comply with the President’s directive on full COVID-19 vaccination. We, therefore, expect all our staff and visitors to comply with these new measures to avoid any inconveniences,” the statement read in part.
While such efforts are supposed to increased uptake of the vaccine the lawyers say such illegal acts leave these agencies open to facing legal action from disgruntled employees who might feel that they were discriminated at their work place.
They advise that government come up with a statutory instrument that addressed vaccination to avoid future lawsuits.