FAMILIES are Nations president Judith Mwila says government should ensure parents are adequately sensitised before rolling out the vaccination programme in schools.

During a recent press briefing, Health Minister Sylvia Masebo said all unvaccinated eligible children would be vaccinated in schools, unless parents communicated otherwise.

“As we are drawing close to schools opening, we have to urge our parents to ensure that their eligible children get vaccinated before they return to school. If your child will go to school without being vaccinated, as government we will be going round schools and we will be carrying our vaccinations. What that means is that those parents who will not have managed to get their children vaccinated, we would expect those parents to ensure that as they send their child back to school, they also inform the school on whether their child will get vaccinated or not. If they keep quiet, we will assume that they have accepted that we vaccinate their child. So there are two options here. Better you as a parent take your child to get vaccinated before they return to school. If your child goes to school without being vaccinated and you want us at the school to vaccinate the child, give that consent. Keeping silent will mean that you have accepted. So please if you are saying no make sure you inform the school,” said Masebo.

Commenting on this in an interview, Mwila urged parents to be objective and understand the importance of having their children vaccinated.

She also urged government to ensure that parents were adequately sensitised in order for them to make decisions based on knowledge.

“I think sensitisation also is very important. Parents should be adequately sensitised, when they have to make a decision, they should make a decision on knowledge, on things they know they understand. So I want to protect both the parents and also the government or system, it’s for the good of the children that they get the vaccination, but at the same time, those children belong to parents who have got an interest to what happened to the children. Some vaccinations may have after-effects and if the parents don’t know, it’s going to be another issue. So I think my appeal is that parents let’s work together with the authorities so that we can move together. We know our children need to be protected against certain diseases. When babies are born, 3 days after birth they are given BCG, it’s a vaccination, and many other vaccinations,” Mwila said.

“So I would like to appeal to parents to be very objective as well. Let them be objective to understand ‘does my child need vaccination’? The answer is yes. So what happens ‘let me allow my child to get vaccinated’. The government is now saying that they are going to just start giving because the response from the parents maybe is not satisfactory, in this case, I would say parents let’s be objective, let’s understand what is happening, where we don’t have information we can ask. At the same time let the ministry give enough information in the right way, it shouldn’t be a forcing matter.”

Mwila urged parents to cooperate with the Ministry of Health, saying government’s intention was good.

“It’s either this or that, so as parents what do we want? Are you going to stop our children from going to school so that they don’t get the vaccination when we have not said yes? So yes, we as parents need to coordinate and cooperate with the ministry. The intention is good so let’s understand that. And for the ministry, when she said that if they are not coming out adequately, meaning that the programme will be delayed and during the delay of the programme children are going to get sick, we are going to lose lives. Do we want that? No, so again when you look from the side of the ministry, they are looking at time and they are looking at the development unfolding, this disease is spreading and there are new versions of it coming all the time. So the vaccination might help,” she said.

Meanwhile, Mwila recalled that when she was a child, vaccination programmes were carried out in schools even without parents’ prior knowledge.

“When we heard, when there was an announcement that the ministry was now ready to vaccinate children [aged] 12 and above, I think that a lot of information was going around so that the parents can make a decision, to give consent. A long time ago in my time when I was born, in the 60s, the vaccination programme would come to the schools before. Anything that is targeting the children, where you [will] find a lot of children who are actually designated according to age is the school. So the health authorities would come to the school and select those which grades are required for that particular vaccination and we would go home with a vaccination. And that time it wasn’t just like these oral [vaccinations], it was the injection where you go with a jab, you go home your arm is even swollen and your mother is wondering that what happened? That time it went very well. We were all vaccinated against polio so people were saved, children were saved and we were ready for the pandemics and all that,” said Mwila.

“So I know that issues of human rights, child rights have now come into play and now people will make a lot of noise if they come home with a vaccination which they didn’t know about. But I think over and above, what parents need to be looking at is really what is the scenario in the health sector. So again I think we have to weigh the scale and see whether we are getting there with the attention or the authority from the parents.”