MANILA (2nd UPDATE) — Two parents on Thursday asked a Quezon City court to stop the inoculation against COVID-19 of children aged 5 to 11.
The petitioners questioned the Department of Health’s circular on vaccination for 5 to 11-year-olds, and asked the court to declare it unconstitutional.
The Philippines is set to begin Monday the inoculation of children aged 5 to 11 using Pfizer's mRNA vaccine, with six initial sites in Metro Manila. It will be expanded nationwide on the following day, officials had said.
Dominic Almelor, a former ABS-CBN reporter and a father of a 7-year-old, and Girlie Samonte, mother of two children aged 7 and 9, said they want to have the final say whether or not their children should get vaccinated against COVID-19.
Almelor invoked his experience as a journalist, while Samonte, who had filed criminal and civil complaints against government officials over the Dengvaxia vaccine rollout, cited the supposed adverse effects experienced by her son after having been inoculated with Dengvaxia.
They object to a provision in the DOH circular that allows the government, through representatives from the social welfare department, to give consent for vaccination of a minor in case the latter wants to get vaccinated but the parent/guardian refuses.
“In case the DOH Memorandum is followed, Dominic finds it repulsive that he will not have a say on the matter as his 7-year-old son is still very young and may not be able to stand the effects of the vaccination. His son cannot expect to know of the experimental nature of the COVID-19 vaccine and its possible adverse effects,” the petition said.
Almelor and Samonte, both clients of the Public Attorney’s Office, argued that vaccination is not mandated by law and that “taking away such right to refuse consent from the parents/guardians is the same as making the vaccination mandatory, a blatant and clear circumvention of the Republic Act No. 11525.”
They also said that COVID-19 vaccination does not make the recipient immune from the respiratory disease.
They ask the DOH to respect their choice on the matter, even as they clarify they are not “anti-vaccination”.
Both object to the waiver on liability.
“While Dominic, who himself is fully vaccinated with Moderna mRNA vaccine, like the rest of the world, desires for the global pandemic to end and agrees that every citizen must do his/her part in minimizing the transmission of COVID-19, he believes that vaccinating children 5 to 11 years old, including his son, with waiver on liabillity in case of serious illness, permanent disability, or death, would do more harm than good,” the petition read.
The waiver refers to section 8 of Republic Act No. 11525 or the COVID-19 Vaccination Program Act of 2021 which grants public officials and employees, contractors, manufacturers, volunteers, and representatives of duly authorized private entities immunity from suit and any liability that may arise out of the inoculation of the COVID-19 vaccine.
Almelor and Samonte claimed there are serious adverse effects including permanent disability and death arising from the use of COVID-19 vaccine.
The World Health Organization, in November last year, said that in phase 2 and 3 trials for the mRNA vaccines of Pfizer and Moderna, “efficacy and immunogenicity were similar or higher compared to adults; safety and reactogenicity profiles in adolescents were similar to young adults.”
Although the WHO cited “very rare signal of myocarditis/pericarditis” connected with mRNA vaccines, these cases, it said, occurred more often in younger men aged 16 to 24.
PH AUTHORITIES: COVID-19 VACCINATION TO PROCEED
In a joint statement, the National Task Force (NTF) Against COVID-19 and the DOH said the country's COVID-19 vaccination for the young population will push through next week despite the petition.
They emphasized that inoculation of children is safe and proven effective, saying that among millions of teens who received the jab since last year, none have shown adverse side effects from it.
"The policy on vaccinating children aged five to 11 is the result of careful study by health experts and has been approved in many countries, including the United States of America which has one of the most stringent regulatory bodies in the world," the statement read.
"As we have emphasized, all FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective."
NTF Deputy Chief Implementer Vince Dizon reiterated that the COVID-19 jab was screened by international and local health experts.
"Hindi naman Pilipinas ang unang gumawa nito," he said.
(We are not the country that started this.)
Vaccinations will continue unless the court grants the petition of Almelor and Samonte, he added.
"Hangga’t walang order ang korte, itutuloy pa rin, kasi napaka-importante talaga na mabigyan ng proteksyon ang ating mga kabataan. Kasi talagang nakita naman natin yung omicron, marami sa mga kabataan natin, dahil hindi sila nabakunahan, hindi pa sila eligible e nagkasakit."
(Unless there is a court order, we will continue. This is important to give children protection from COVID-19 as we have seen during the omicron surge. Many of our children are still unvaccinated and are contracting COVID-19.)
Integrated Bar of the Philippines (IBP) former president Domingo Cayosa, meanwhile, said there is nothing to stop in the pediatric COVID-19 vaccination because it is not mandatory.
"Under existing laws... minors... ang magbibigay ng consent ay parents. Kung ayaw ng parents na pabakunahan yung mga anak, wala namang obligasyon. Hindi naman yan pinaparusahan ng gobyerno," Cayosa said.
(Parents will give consent for minors. If the parents do not like their children to get vaccinated, there is no obligation and they will not be punished by government.)
"Government at this point... they haven't taken away the right of parents to decide for children," he added.
"In this particular case, hindi naman tinatanggalan ng karapatan ang mga magulang na magdesisyon para sa mga bata... what is there to stop?"
Public Attorneys Office (PAO) Chief Persida Acosta, however, stated a provision in the interim guidelines saying that if a parent does not give their consent for the child's COVID-19 vaccination, the social welfare department would sign their consent.
This makes the vaccinations for the sector "indirectly" mandatory, she said.
"Bakit made-deprive ang magulang na magbigay ng consent sa mga anak nila, at ibibigay sa DSWD samantalang ang nakakalam ng medical history [nila]" Acosta, who is still unvaccinated, said in an interview on Teleradyo.
(Why should we deprive parents a chance to give consent for the children or give it to the DSWD? The agency does not know their medical history.)
She also said that all COVID-19 vaccines are still "experimental."
"Word for word, nasusulat, 'state recognizes that these COVID-19 vaccines are still experimental.' Ni-recognize din ng batas na may expected serious adverse effect at mayroon ring permanent disability or death arising from that use of vaccine," she added, fuming.
The PAO chief said she is not against COVID-19 vaccines but making it mandatory is problematic.
"Ginagawa nilang mandatory... kung gusto mong magpa-experiment ng anak mo, go ahead... Pero bakit ilalagay na kapag ayaw ng magulang estado ang magko-consent through DSWD?" she added, saying later on that she wants the pandemic to end.
(They are making it mandatory, if they want to have their children experimented, go. But why should the state sign in behalf of the parent for the consent?)
Advisers to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in November last year unanimously supported broad use of Pfizer and BioNTech's COVID-19 vaccine in children ages 5 to 11.
Experts had said the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks of the vaccine.
The Pfizer vaccine has an efficacy rate of 90 percent among children aged 5 and above, with "very mild" adverse events, according to recently resigned Food and Drug Administration chief Eric Domingo.
There are some 13.5 million children aged 5 to 11 in the country, according to the DOH.
— With reports from Job Manahan and Vivienne Gulla, ABS-CBN News