MANILA, Philippines – Two parents have asked the Quezon City Regional Trial Court to stop the impending COVID-19 vaccination for children, contesting a clause in the Department of Health (DOH) rule that gives the government the power to give consent to a willing minor.
Former television reporter Dominic Almelor and Girlie Samonte filed the petition to stop the government’s vaccination program for children aged five to 11 years old, which is set to start on February 4.
DOH Memorandum No. 2022-0041, or the interim guidelines for the program, says that “in case the parent/guardian refuses to give consent to the vaccination despite the desire and willingness of the minor child to have himself/herself vaccinated, or there are no persons that may legally exercise parental authority over the child, the State may act as parens patriae and give the necessary consent.”
This is the clause most contested by the petition of Almelor and Samonte, mother of two children who had health problems months after being administered with the dengue vaccine Dengvaxia. To date, no scientific proof has been established to link Dengvaxia to the illnesses and/or deaths suffered by the children whose parents have filed a slew of cases against former health officials.
Chief Public Attorney Persida Acosta – who has refused to be vaccinated against COVID-19, and is opposing the government policy of restricting movement of the unvaccinated – signed the petition. Acosta’s Dengvaxia cases had been cited as among the reasons for vaccine hesitancy in the Philippines.
Almelor said he had been vaccinated against COVID-19.
Questions over parental authority
The petition points out that the DOH clause on state consent virtually makes vaccination mandatory for children. There is no law that makes COVID-19 vaccination mandatory, as the government so far prefers the non-forcible route, balancing Bill of Rights concerns on the autonomy of a person to their bodies.
The petition claimed that the clause violates the Family Code provisions on parental authority.
“The DOH cannot simply deprive a parent/guardian of such authority by virtue of a DOH memorandum, especially in case the parent/guardian has serious concerns about the safety of his/her child,” said the 65-page petition.
Because COVID-19 vaccine is not yet mandatory, the petition argues that the DOH clause is a “a blatant and clear circumvention of Republic Act No. 1125.” RA 1125 is the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act.
“Minors, especially of the tender ages of 5 to 11, cannot be expected to make such rational decisions. In the case of the DOH memorandum, why are parents/guardians being deprived of the right to decide in behalf of their children?” said the petition.
However, even if state consent clause is the one being contested, the petition still wants to stop the entire vaccination program for children, alleging it is “unconstitutional and null and void.”
Later that day, the DOH announced that the rollout of the vaccines for children aged 5 to 11 has been moved to February 7, citing “logistical challenges.” The vaccines to be used for the age group was supposed to arrive on Thursday but would be in the country on Friday, February 4, instead, the DOH said in a statement.
DOH: Vaccines are safe, effective
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, the DOH said that the Philippine government “recognizes the petitioners’ right to file a case,” and they will “wait for the legal process to take its course.”
“However, as far as the national government is concerned, we remain steadfast in our commitment to protect all sectors of the society, which include the children and other vulnerable groups,” the DOH added.
The agency reiterated that COVID-19 vaccines are safe and effective.
“Over 8.1 million children have already been vaccinated worldwide, with no reports of deaths and serious adverse effects among those vaccinated,” the DOH said.
The DOH urged parents and guardians to “make the right and informed decision for their children’s health and well-being.”
– with a report from Bonz Magsambol/Rappler.com