Feedback postpones giving school nurses right to vaccinate children

Coronavirus vaccinations.
Coronavirus vaccinations. Source: Government Office

The Ministry of Social Affairs wants to give school nurses the right to vaccinate children capable of informed decision-making even if their parents do not consent to it. A school nurse told ERR that while the amendment is probably needed, criteria based on which nurses can evaluate children's capacity need to be provided.

Family doctors are already vaccinating young people who wish to be immunized. Now, the ministry wants to extend the right to school nurses. Right now, schools need parental consent to vaccinate students.

"It is only normal for parents to be up to speed on what is happening at school. The question is whose position is more important in situations where parents are opposed to vaccination, while their children are informed enough to decide for themselves," Ants Nõmper, an attorney specializing in medical law, said.

The lawyer said that the problem was raised by gynecologists worried about Estonia's low cervical cancer vaccination rate. The HPV vaccine is administered to girls 12-13 years of age.

"In the grand scheme of things, child rights are prioritized, and we have seen recent examples where young people were denied access to psychiatrists without parents' consent. We've had regulation that made it impossible for underage girls to get an abortion without their mother's consent. All such regulations have now been abolished or changed because they are unconstitutional," Nõmber said.

The justice chancellor proposed changes to the regulation in October but is still critical of the draft.

"The main problem is that school nurses are not given a complete overview of how they should ask child patients for consent, notify them and/or their legal guardians," Martin Kadai, adviser to Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, said.

Kadai said that the general principles have been laid down in the Law of Obligations Act, according to which a capable minor 15-16 years of age can decide whether they wish to be vaccinated. The current draft legislation lacks an age limit.

Olga Sizõi, school nurse at the Õismäe Russian Lyceum, said there have been a few cases where 15-16-year-olds have sought to be vaccinated against their parents' wishes. While she refuses to administer vaccines without parental consent right now, the nurse finds the amendment necessary.

"The government needs to agree on criteria and how old a child must be to be able to decide the necessity of vaccination," Sizõi said.

Minister of Social Protection Peep Peterson (SDE) said that the regulation, initially meant to take effect from the new year, will be postponed due to extensive feedback.

"The justice chancellor's logic is solid and convincing. We will have a new meeting with child protectors and school nurses to try and find a way to accept children's decision," Peterson said.

Both the attorney, nurse and minister agree that if a child does not wish to be vaccinated even though their parents consent, the child's wish needs to be respected as vaccination is voluntary in Estonia.


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Editor: Marko Tooming, Marcus Turovski

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