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Health minister: Further work needed on school vaccination bill

Peep Peterson (SDE).
Peep Peterson (SDE). Source: Ken Mürk/ERR

Health and Labor Minister Peep Peterson (SDE) believes, that further work is needed on the Ministry of Social Affairs' draft amendment to the school vaccination bill. Under the draft, which has been sent by the ministry for approval, school nurses would be allowed to vaccinate schoolchildren who are considered at the childrens' own request.

According to Chancellor of Justice Ülle Madise, the draft law is confusing and needs to be amended.  

"When it comes to such a sensitive issue, it is necessary to be precise and unambiguously clear," Madise wrote on social  media. "The interests and fears of parents and the working hours of doctors and nurses must always be taken into account, and their lives must not be made more complicated than they already are," she added.

Madise also said on Wednesday, that by law, vaccination in Estonia is voluntary and the decision to vaccinate minors is made jointly with the involvement of their parents.

At present, no uniform regulation is in place to determine how school nurses can assess a child's ability to make such decisions independently. As a result, nurses not to make such assessments.

Minister of Health and Labor Peep Peterson (SDE), said, that he is currently waiting for feedback from expert groups before deciding on the best way to proceed.

"How do we deal with this, what advice do we give in the regulations and what authority do we give to school nurses to decide? These are things that we will discuss further, first with the Chancellor of Justice, certainly with the Estonian Union for Child Welfare (Lastekaitse Liit) and definitely with school nurses themselves. So, the process will continue, in the way suggested yesterday in the Social Affairs Committee," said Peterson.

"However, there is no clear answer here, whereby a parent can refuse the administering of such important vaccines if their child is capable of making a decision (for themselves) and wants to have control over his or her own body to mitigate these risks in the future," Peterson said.

"We know, that at the age of 14 we allow children to decide many things for themselves. Perhaps in this case we should also consider recognizing a child's own bodily autonomy as stated in the Constitution and the Law of Obligations Act," he added.

"What is certain is that the current ministerial regulations cannot be in conflict with the Law of Obligations; they have to be amended. However, I have not heard about anyone proposing an amendment to the Law of Obligations Act or to the Constitution. So that is the limbo we are in at the moment. And it's certainly not wise to leave this level of complexity for school nurses (to deal with)," Peterson said.

"I think that the section of the Law of Obligations Act, which states that the best interests of the child override the parent's knowledge of modern medicine, is important and certainly that's the spirit in which our regulations will be (created) in the future," he added.

Peterson also stressed that the draft regulation in question is not related to the application of coronavirus vaccinations by school nurses.

"If we move forward with this issue, calmly, and in consultation with specialists, then maybe somewhere along the line the so-called additional decision-making right for young people will come into being. However, we can't say that [parents] will remain completely responsible for making such decisions for their children indefinitely. For the most part, up to the age of 14, yes, but after that, not so directly," Peterson said.

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Editor: Michael Cole

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