By EARYEL BOWLEG
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE Ministry of Health has clarified that no one under the age of 18 years of age will be administered a COVID-19 vaccine until the World Health Organisation and scientific evidence say it is safe to do so and with the consent of parents.
The ministry also noted in a statement yesterday that the administration of the COVID-19 vaccine will be “entirely voluntary”.
This comes a day after Health Minister Renward Wells told reporters the government had not yet decided if students will have to take COVID-19 vaccine as an entry requirement to attend school.
Yesterday the ministry explained there are clinical trials currently underway on the vaccine relating to people 12 to 17 years of age. The vaccines being administered in the United States have not yet been approved for use in those under 16.
“The ministry wishes to clarify that no one under the age of 18 years of age, including children in The Bahamas, will be administered the COVID-19 vaccine,” according to the ministry’s statement.
“Although the Government of The Bahamas has been proactive in securing mechanisms that will give the Bahamian people access to this much-needed vaccine, the Ministry of Health underscores that administration of the COVID-19 vaccine is entirely voluntary. In other words, only those who wish to receive the vaccine can avail themselves of it.
“The ministry further states that it will continue to comport with best practice and international standards on medical and public health matters. This extends to the age recommendations for the COVID-19 vaccine administration. From current knowledge, the approved age range for the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is 16 years and older; and Moderna is 18 years and older.
“The ministry notes the global scientific clinical trials currently underway to determine/study the safety and efficacy of this vaccine in persons 12 to 17 years of age. We assure the Bahamian people that COVID-19 vaccination among children will not be offered within this sub-population until evidence suggests it is safe to do so, and with the consent of parents and guardians.”
A day earlier, Mr Wells had said that discussions were underway about the possibility of making the COVID-19 vaccine a requirement for students to enrol in school.
“We are in discussions about it but obviously if that decision is made, we will come back and tell the Bahamian people, but we don’t require you to take the flu vaccine to go to school,” Mr Wells said in response to reporters’ questions on Tuesday.
“There are some vaccines that are required and there are some vaccines that are not. The flu vaccine is not required.”
Asked if the matter is being discussed by Cabinet, he replied on Tuesday: “I’m saying that I’m going to bring it to that level but at the end of the day the current position of The Bahamas (is) that this is (not) mandatory unless the WHO and others change their protocols and their requirements. I don’t believe you’ll see any change with us, but again this situation with COVID is very fluid.”
According to the Associated Press, Pfizer began testing in October “in children as young as 12 and is expected to take several more months” while Moderna “began enrolling study participants ages 12 to 17” in December.
When contacted, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Chairman Fred Mitchell pointed out the legal issue with mandatory vaccines on minors.
“The immediate thing when I saw the headline (of Mr Wells’ comments) was this – if you are not forcing adults to do so how can you, as a man of civil liberties, force children to do so because in the general law children require the permission of their parents to accept vaccines,” Mr Mitchell said.