No child should be vaccinated without parents’/guardians’ consent

Dear Editor,
I recently heard reports of staff of the Public Health Ministry, in collaboration with the Education Ministry, vaccinating underage children with the anti-HPV vaccine without first obtaining parental permission. In some areas, parents/guardians who do not want their child/children to get this vaccine are being tasked with writing and sending letters to the authorities – the ‘opt-out’ approach; otherwise their child will get vaccinated. Especially troubling, are reports from the hinterland regions about parents only receiving information about this vaccine after their children have already been vaccinated. This is a clear violation of both child and parental rights, as well as a potentially very dangerous approach – children’s medical histories, potential allergies, etc, are not being taken into proper consideration. It is important to have this information as it can determine whether or not the child should receive the vaccine and alert caregivers to potential negative side effects.
The fact is that every drug/medicine/vaccine has side effects, some more serious than others, depending on each individual’s genetics, medical history, etc. Gardasil, the anti-HPV vaccine, is no exception. While most of the reported side effects have been relatively minor thus far, some more serious effects have been reported. Responsible and ethical healthcare providers would inform people – including the adults and guardians of underage children – of these, allowing them to make an informed decision. Responsible and ethical healthcare providers would also follow up and provide treatment for side effects that children may experience. It is not clear that this is being done in Guyana, especially in the hinterland areas. This vaccine is a relatively new one, and although some amount of safety testing has been done by its manufacturer, research is still being conducted. Some side effects may not show up immediately but after some time; when side effects aren’t tracked properly, the long-term safety of the vaccine becomes questionable.
Vaccine side effects and safety concerns aside, the issue of consent remains. Consent is, theoretically, a very simple concept – giving permission, saying yes or no to things affecting you. In sexual matters, not getting consent from someone equals rape. Consent is something we train youth – and adults – to ask for and obtain, as responsible and ethical persons. This is especially necessary in a nation like ours that’s suffering from an epidemic of sexual abuse. Free, Prior, and Informed Consent (FPIC) is also a very important right of indigenous people in particular. It has been recognised in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) and highlights the importance of respectful inclusion of indigenous people in decision making on issues affecting them. Key to FPIC is not being coerced, threatened, or manipulated, and of being informed before any decision is made. Administering the anti-HPV vaccine to underage children – indigenous and non-indigenous – without parental permission is a clear violation of FPIC, as well as potentially dangerous, health-wise.
This action of the Public Health and Education Ministries needs to be stopped immediately. Parents/guardians of children nationwide, but especially in the hinterland regions where indigenous languages – not Standard English – often predominate, must not be forced to write ‘opt-in’ letters to the authorities. All information about potential vaccine side effects must be provided to parents/guardians and no child should be vaccinated without their parents’ free, prior, and informed consent. To do otherwise is to disrespect child and parental rights, and potentially harm children. Surely this is not what the caring authorities intend.

S Nageer