Thursday, December 7, 2023

Despite court order, vaccinating youths aged 12-17 against COVID remains in limbo

The federal government will challenge a court order instructing it to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all youths aged 12 to 17.

A México state-based federal judge last week ordered health authorities to modify the national vaccination policy to include all minors between those ages, of whom there are approximately 10 million.

Health authorities have so far only inoculated minors who obtained injunctions ordering their vaccination while the government announced last month it would offer vaccines to more than 1 million children with health conditions that make them vulnerable to serious illness.

Responding to the court order last Thursday, President López Obrador said the ruling was that of a single judge and “not definitive.”

“It will be respected legally but at the same time we’ll go to the relevant authority to clarify it,” he said, referring to a legal challenge.

Health Minister Jorge Alcocer
Health Minister Jorge Alcocer says vaccinating children could have a ‘limiting’ effect on the development of their immune systems.

The federal judge, whose blanket ruling came in response to an injunction request filed by the family of a 15-year-old girl seeking her vaccination, gave the government until last Thursday to comply with her order.

But the government’s consideration of it was reportedly hindered by the closure last week of offices within the Health Ministry due to a coronavirus outbreak.

“The ministry instructed its offices to ‘abstain from receiving complaints, injunctions, summons … and any other notification from jurisdictional authorities.’ This measure has left the order issued in México state in an impasse because [health authorities] haven’t been notified,” the newspaper El País reported.

Before the court order was issued, López Obrador said the government would only offer vaccines to children without underlying health issues when “the world’s health organizations” authorize their inoculation. Health Minister Jorge Alcocer said last Friday that vaccinating children could have a “limiting” effect on the development of their immune systems.

But Andreu Comas, a virologist and researcher at the Autonomous University of San Luis Potosí, told El País there is no evidence that COVID-19 vaccines can damage minors’ immune systems.

“There is not a single piece of scientific evidence saying that the COVID vaccine, or any other vaccine, will weaken the immune system,” he said.

Indeed, many countries, including the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Australia and numerous European nations, are already vaccinating children aged 12 and above – mainly with the Pfizer shot, which has been approved for use on minors in Mexico.

“Only by immunizing children will we be able to reach true herd immunity that will allow us to stop using face masks,” Comas said.

Although its Strategic Advisory Group of Experts has concluded that the Pfizer vaccine is suitable for use by minors aged 12 years and above, the World Health Organization has not advocated forcefully for the vaccination of healthy children and adolescents on the grounds they tend to suffer only mild disease if infected with the coronavirus.

In contrast, the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends everyone 12 years and older should get a COVID-19 vaccination to help protect against the virus.

Alma Franco, a lawyer in Oaxaca who has filed injunction requests on behalf of approximately 70 families seeking inoculation of minors, wishes the Mexican government would just get on with rolling the vaccine out to all children, regardless of whether they are more vulnerable to serious disease or not.

“The federal authorities are …. [saying] the vaccine policy can’t be changed; meanwhile, children are suffering a decline not just in their physical health but also in their psycho-emotional health,” she said.

With reports from El País 

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