THE RECENT verdict of the Constitutional Court stipulates that the mandatory vaccination of children in Slovakia is constitutional. Such a verdict disappointed advocates of the right of parents to decide whether they want their child to be vaccinated or not. The health-care authorities however, welcome the decision and say vaccination is important not only for children, but also for the environment they live in.
The Constitutional Court decided at a closed session on December 10 that laws concerning the mandatory vaccination of children do not contradict the constitution and parents can be fined for avoiding them. The court turned down a proposal submitted in June 2013 by the Nitra Regional Court to deem some of the stipulations of the law on the protection and development of public health and the Health Ministry’s regulation on the prevention and control of infectious diseases as being at mutual variance.
The regional court turned to the Constitutional Court due to a lawsuit by a plaintiff asking it to scrutinise the lawfulness of the ruling and the steps of the Slovak Public Health Authority (ÚVZ). She refused to let her child be vaccinated, for which she was fined by the regional public health office some €100, the SITA newswire wrote.
“I welcome the ruling of the Constitutional Court as the victory of common sense, as it is wise and responsible also for future generations,” Zuzana Krištúfková, head of the Slovak Epidemiological and Vaccinology Association, told The Slovak Spectator.
According to her, mandatory vaccination in Slovakia is in compliance with articles of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, adopted by the UN in 1989, which Slovakia ratified and promised to observe.
Also the Health Ministry and ÚVZ welcomed the ruling. Milan Fillo of the Freedom of Vaccination association, representing the critics of mandatory vaccination, however called the verdict “the final nail in the coffin of the rule of law in Slovakia”.
“The Constitutional Court simply rejected the meaning of its existence – the advocacy of the fundamental human rights and freedoms, anchored in the constitution, including the right to inviolability of an individual and the right to privacy,” Fillo told The Slovak Spectator.
Iva Vranská Rojková, chair of the Initiative for Vaccine Risks Awareness, another association criticising the mandatory vaccination, suggests that it is possible the Constitutional Court issued a ruling which contradicts its previous decision that the rights and freedoms must not be limited by a sub-statutory act. Since the mandatory vaccination is only part of the regulation and not the law, it should not limit human rights and freedoms, which in fact happens, she told The Slovak Spectator.
Both the Health Ministry and ÚVZ however, stress that vaccination is important because unvaccinated children are more prone to infection. Moreover, they can become the source of the infection for their environment, especially to those who for some reason cannot be vaccinated, said Martina Šoltésová, spokesperson for the Health Ministry. In addition, the vaccination in Slovakia is aimed against diseases which may threaten life or have lasting effects, such as deafness, paralysis of the limbs, chronic inflammation of the liver or damage to the brain, added ÚVZ spokesperson Lenka Skalická.
More parents refuse vaccination
Children in Slovakia have to be vaccinated against 10 diseases: diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis (or whooping cough), polio, hepatitis B, invasive Haemophilus influenzae infections, invasive pneumococcal diseases, measles, mumps and rubella. Parents who refuse the vaccination of their children can be fined up to €331.
However, the number of parents refusing vaccination is increasing. In 2013, altogether 938 children were not vaccinated at all, Skalická said.
The survey aimed at identifying the factors impacting the attitude of parents and parents-to-be regarding vaccination, which was carried out by ÚVZ in June 2013, showed that if vaccination was not mandatory in Slovakia, 77 percent of parents would vaccinate their children, the Zdravotnícke Noviny weekly wrote.
Among the reasons cited by the critics of the mandatory vaccination is that it is a serious interference into the development of a child’s immune system and that it can be harmful to health. Fillo also says that there is a lack of information for patients and parents, which leads to an increased number of undesirable side effects of vaccinating. Moreover, doctors are not obliged to educate themselves in this field. He also criticises the absence of compensation for parents whose children are harmed or die after being vaccinated.
Vaccination prevents diseases
“I do not perceive democracy as the system in which everybody can do what they want, but as a system in which it is necessary to respect the rules set in favour of the society,” Krištúfková said, “and in this case in favour of the public health.”
The Health Ministry considers sharing the doubts on the effectiveness of vaccination as dangerous. According to Šoltésová, parents should realise that we are living in open European space and that we are witnessing an increased migration and movement of people, which reveals how important the individual as well as the collective protection from diseases is.
Before the vaccination started, infectious diseases were the most frequent reason for deaths of children and also parents, Skalická explained.
According to Krištúfková, thanks to high vaccination coverage, people are now protected from 10 diseases which can have serious impacts on health. For example, Slovakia is one of a few EU countries which since 1998 does not report domestic measles. Though there was a measles epidemic in 2003, it occurred in a refugee camp where the infection was brought from Chechnya, she explained.
Also the illness rate of other diseases on the vaccination list is very low, she added.
“The abolishment of mandatory vaccination would lead to a serious and thoughtless threat to public health, needless diseases, deaths and epidemics,” Krištúfková said.
The parents often cite fear from the side affects after vaccination when refusing it, Krištúfková said. Both she and Skalická, however, say that these are lower risks than overcoming the diseases against which the child should have been vaccinated.
“Paying the fine will not protect the child from diseases,” Krištúfková said.
Slovaks distrust health information on the internet
Slovaks do not believe much of the information about health they find on the internet, with up to 82 percent of them citing it as an unreliable source. This stems from the survey carried out by the European Commission between September 18 and 20, 2014 on 26,566 respondents from 28 EU countries.
The survey suggested that when searching through information on the internet, Slovaks are most interested in general information about health and possibilities to improve it. They read articles about nutrition, diets, sports and pregnancy. They however seek less information about specific diseases and medical procedures.
“Compared to other Europeans we seldom use the internet to check the information we received from the doctor,” Andrej Králik from the Representation of the EC in Slovakia told the TASR newswire.
Slovaks dislike mostly the unreliability, commercial character, few details and opacity of information about health they find.
“Together with Slovenians, Slovaks are the least satisfied with what they find about health on the internet,” Králik continued, as quoted by TASR, adding that they consider the information not very useful and insignificant for their own situation.
Regarding the frequency of seeking the information, 44 percent of Slovaks said they search once a month, while 16 percent said they do it once a week.