Pretoria - The legal challenge by the African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) and other concerned organisations to halt the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccine to children between the ages of 12 and 17 is due to be heard over two days in the Gauteng High Court, Pretoria, from April 28.
Section27 was this week admitted as amicus curiae (friend of the court) in the application by the ACDP against the Health Ministry.
The ACDP is determined to suspend the roll-out of vaccines to adolescents aged 12 to 17.
But Julia Chaskalson, of Section27, said the ACDP’s arguments against child and adolescent vaccinations was based on widely discredited medical opinions, which claim that Covid-19 vaccines pose a risk to adolescents.
She said their evidence has been refuted on behalf of the national Department of Health by some of South Africa’s foremost medical experts, including Professor Salim Abdool Karim.
“Section27 supports the evidence put forward by the Department of Health.
“We believe that suspending the roll-out of vaccines to teenagers is not in the best interests of children, and may lead to violations of their rights to basic education, health equality and nutrition,” Chaskalson said.
With the recent announcement that all secondary schools were now required to reopen fully, with social distancing rules and rotational timetables scrapped, Section27 said vaccination was an even more necessary measure to keep teenagers safe.
“Vaccines have been proven to be safe and effective at preventing severe cases and deaths from Covid-19 in young people. Data shows that 378 000 children got Covid-19 between March 2020 and December 4, 2021.”
Chaskalson added that in that period, 20 346 children were hospitalised for Covid-19 and 658 children died of Covid-19.
“Vaccination of teenagers must be allowed to continue to protect more young people from hospitalisation and death from Covid-19.”
Part of Section27’s argument is that vaccination is especially important as classrooms are overcrowded and poorly ventilated. Vaccination is one of the best tools available to prevent large outbreaks of Covid-19 in schools and to protect teenagers from severe cases of Covid-19, she said.
More than 1.4 million teenagers have now been vaccinated against Covid-19 in South Africa, but only around 200 000 of those have received two shots of Pfizer and thus fully vaccinated.
This represents as little as 3.26% of all teenagers fully vaccinated, according to national health data. With more than 6.2 million adolescents eligible for vaccination, suspending the vaccine programme for this age group now would jeopardise the rights of millions of young people around the country, Chaskalson said.
Section27 will argue that vaccination is one of the best tools to prevent the need for future school closures and rotational timetabling, both of which have had grave impacts on learners’ educational outcomes, mental health, and access to a key socio-economic safety net, such as the National School Nutrition Programme.
The ACDP and other organisations such as Free the Children – Save the Nation and the Covid Care Alliance will ask the court for an interim interdict against child vaccinations, pending the outcome of an internal appeal before the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority, to completely stop the programme.
The party said that in effect, the decision of the regulator – granting authorisation for the use of the Pfizer vaccine for children aged 12 to 17 – was contrary to the best interests of children. It claimed that children were being used as a shield to protect adult society, when in fact adult society should be protecting children.