Asclepius, Content Writer, Headline Diplomat, LUDCI.eu
Barely a year since the COVID-19 pandemic became global, the virus has claimed more than 2.1 million lives with the number of total infections nearly reaching 100 million, according to data from the World Health Organization. However, today, the only hope in sight is from the vaccines, some of which are the recently-developed and approved Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Serum Oxford-AstraZeneca, Covaxin, Covishield COVID-19 vaccines, among others.
The effects of the pandemic on children, their health, and their education cannot be overemphasised. According to UNICEF, with the lockdowns and the limitations caused by the pandemic, there is an increasing number of undervaccinated and unvaccinated children, putting millions of children at risk of death and diseases.
However, the agency and WHO have reported that the lack of access to immunization has occurred since before the pandemic broke. They however have reinstated that COVID-19 has caused the suspension or postponement of massive campaigns of vaccination against polio or measles in various countries.
In fact, according to the United Nations, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 20 million children under one year of age were out of reach for vaccines such as polio or measles.
“The stakes have never been higher. The risks have never been higher. As COVID-19 continues to spread globally, our work to provide vital vaccines to children is critical,” warned UNICEF Senior Advisor and Head of Immunization, Robin Nandy.
“With the interruption of vaccination services due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the fate of millions of young lives hangs by a thread,” he lamented.
It is estimated that 182 million children did not receive the first dose of the measles vaccine between 2010 and 2018, or what is the same, 20.3 million children a year on average, according to the UNICEF analysis.
However, as governments continue to ease restrictions, the renewed hopes of access to virus vaccines and immunization are being set back by another more dangerous scourge of pandemic: resistance from the so-called “anti-vaxxers” as a result of misinformation and the misinterpreted laws on human rights.
Forced vaccinations and human rights
Would the government have the power to force vaccination? Could your employer require proof of vaccination for you to resume work? Many questions arise at the dawn of a mass vaccination campaign.
Some agree and see the vaccine as a hope for a return to normal life, but others are categorically opposed. If we have seen a wave of protests against the wearing of masks, what would it be if the government made the vaccine compulsory the day after low voluntary participation?
One can think that people will evoke elements of discrimination to refuse the vaccine such as the right to religion or informed consent. Some religious groups are opposed to vaccination. Asides from exemptions based on the tenets of religion in denominations such as the Church of the First Born, End-Time Ministries, Faith Assembly, Faith Tabernacle, and some Muslim fundamentalists, there are physiological and medical reasons of exemption, according to an article by VeryWell Family, a family-oriented health resource.
Besides, various posts claiming that vaccines violate the Nuremberg Code, a 1947 document that establishes principles for human experimentation, have been shared thousands of times on social media since at least June 2020. Some of the messages add that they are not compatible with the bioethical principles of UNESCO either, as reported by the AFP.
The Nuremberg Code
After the end of World War II (1939-1945), England, Northern Ireland, the United States, France, and the Soviet Union agreed to create the Nuremberg Tribunal to try certain crimes committed during the war.
Among the cases tried, one was the so-called “Trial of the Doctors“, where 23 doctors and other officials were prosecuted for their role in the experiments carried out with concentration camp prisoners.
The verdict, in this case, included a ten-point document published in 1947 called “Permitted Medical Experiments,” also known as the Nuremberg Code.
There it begins by establishing that certain medical experiments on human beings can be beneficial and “generally satisfy the ethics of the medical profession.” However, it is stated that certain principles must be met for these procedures to be “moral, ethical and legal.”
The first point of the Nuremberg Code points to informed consent:
“The person involved must have the legal capacity to give their consent; It must be located in such a way that it allows you to exercise your freedom to choose, without the intervention of any other element of force, fraud, deceit, coercion or some other subsequent factor to force coercion, and you must have sufficient knowledge and understanding of the elements of the matter involved to allow him to make a correct decision.”
According to the document, the person involved must be informed about the risks, duration, purpose, and method with which it is going to proceed. However, it does not mention vaccines.
Dr. Jonathan D. Moreno, a professor of bioethics at the University of Pennsylvania, explained that the Nuremberg Code is about human experiments and not vaccines. “It is perfectly compatible with vaccines,” he emphasized.
Also speaking to AFP, Steven Joffe, a medical ethics scholar at the same university, added that “vaccines are in no way a violation of the Nuremberg Code.”
UNESCO Universal Declaration of Bioethics
As is the case in many regions of the world, Nigeria’s new infectious disease bill seeking citizens to embrace vaccination, for example, was met with criticism and backlash, some of which are found in one of its national daily newspapers, The Punch. Some of the publications claim that the vaccines violate “Article 6 of the 2005 UNESCO Declaration on Bioethics and Human Rights”.
In 2005, UNESCO presented the Universal Declaration of Bioethics and Human Rights with the purpose of “providing a universal framework of principles and procedures that serve as a guide to the States in the formulation of legislation, policies or other instruments in the field of bioethics.”
Article 6, mentioned in the viralized publications, establishes the following:
“Any preventive, diagnostic, and therapeutic medical intervention must only be carried out with the prior free and informed consent of the person concerned, based on adequate information. When appropriate, consent should be expressed and the interested person may revoke it at any time and for any reason, without this entailing any disadvantage or harm to them.”
Informed consent is different from voluntary consent in legal terms, explained Wendy E. Parmet, director of the Northeastern University Center for Health Policy.
“Informed consent not only implies that the choice is voluntary, but that the choice is informed, that the person knows the risks,” Parmet told AFP, adding that the arguments of the publications are “completely reduced and simplified in a sense completely misleading.”
“The common flu vaccine interferes with the new coronavirus disease.” False
The common flu vaccine, according to fact checks by Reuters, is not related to COVID-19; there is also no evidence to prove the alleged link. In fact, the study author, Greg G. Wolff, published a letter on June 19 clarifying that the data in his publication “cannot and should not be interpreted to represent any type of relationship or association of the flu vaccine with the COVID-19 disease “.
The vaccine “will modify your DNA by turning you into a transgenic product.” False
According to experts consulted by AFP and Reuter’s fact check, vaccines do not modify DNA. A transgenic product is an organism to which one or more genes have been introduced from another organism, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO). However, in the current vaccines that are being developed [against COVID-19], this technology is not used, according to Mark Lynas, a visiting fellow at Cornell University’s Alliance for Science group.
Responding to the claim, Lynas says: “That’s just a myth, one often spread intentionally by anti-vaccination activists to deliberately generate confusion and mistrust,” he said.
“Genetic modification would involve the deliberate insertion of foreign DNA into the nucleus of a human cell, and vaccines simply don’t do that. Vaccines work by training the immune system to recognize a pathogen when it attempts to infect the body – this is mostly done by the injection of viral antigens or weakened live viruses that stimulate an immune response through the production of antibodies.”
Children not recommended for vaccination in Sweden
COVID-19 vaccinations started late in December 2020 in Sweden, according to digital news publisher, The Local. However, the country’s Public Health Agency currently doesn’t recommend vaccinations for children except the child is in the so-called high-risk group of getting infected.
“Our assessment is that children do not need the vaccine in the first instance – that goes for healthy children without underlying illnesses. Quite simply, it’s about creating protection around the people who have extra need of protection,” Sweden’s vaccine coordinator Richard Bergström said last year before vaccination programs started.
Also, there’s the problem of vaccine skepticism or hesitancy in the country with 26% Swedes saying they don’t want to get vaccinated in a poll, according to Bloomberg.
In Germany, vaccines for children not yet approved
Also, in Germany, children vaccination is not underway as the vaccines for children under 12 are still in clinical trials, according to AP. “Hopefully by the time we get to the late spring and early summer we will have children being able to be vaccinated,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, Germany’s top infectious disease expert said at a White House coronavirus briefing.
Vaccination for “people aged 18 and over in the Netherlands”
Like Sweden and Germany, The Netherlands also has no plans in place for the vaccination of children ages 12 and under as the government says only people aged 18 and over will be invited for vaccination against the virus.
“In 2021 everyone aged 18 and over in the Netherlands will be invited to get vaccinated against COVID-19,” reads a publication on the official website of the Netherlands government.
COVID-19 vaccines not recommended for children in Belgium
Like in Sweden, COVID 19 vaccines such as the Pfizer one are not recommended for children and adolescents who are under the age of 16, according to the coronavirus information portal, Info-Coronavirus.be.
According to the portal, “COVID-19 vaccine research has only just started in children, and therefore there are very limited data on safety and immunogenicity in this group.”
In the wake of the development and approval of COVID-19 vaccines, many governments are embroiled in a new public health crisis, fueled by vaccine skeptics. In the United States especially, “anti-vaxxers” activists are speaking out against vaccination. Many were encouraged by a scientific article linking vaccines to the emergence of autism cases; the author admitted his mistake, but the urban legend is still alive, propelled by the Internet.
Some infectious diseases, such as measles considered eradicated just a few years ago, have made a comeback, due to undervaccination and unvaccinations caused by disruption of immunization programs. Moreover, the current resistance to vaccinations poses a risk to people’s health.
However, the importance of vaccines coming to the rescue of billions of people on the planet, as infections edge closer to the 100 million mark, cannot be overemphasized. Rather than compelling people to accept vaccinations, governments and international agencies have to come out to sensitize people on what the vaccines can and cannot do as well as the importance of their consent.
Countries, regional organizations, and international agencies have to lift the various existing restrictions and lockdowns to stop people from believing that their kids will be vaccinated forcefully just as their freedom of movement human right is being violated. Finally, proactive vaccinations should not be made compulsory for children, adults, and environments that are not affected or asymptomatic, especially when subjects do not give consent.