Health professionals are striking back at a worrisome piece of anti-vaxxer legislation that arose last month in Congress. In response to the “Informed Consent on Vaccination” initiative, which would reverse the National Law of Obligatory Vaccination (Law 22,909), ten medical entities are petitioning the Chamber of Deputies to advance a dormant project that will uphold vaccination as a human right. If passed into law, it will also update the national schedule of mandatory vaccines.
The initiative simply reifies facts on the ground. “It provides a legal framework to state policies that already exist,” said Leandro Cahn, Director of Communication and Institutional Development at the Huésped Foundation. According to the deputy behind the project, Miriam Gallardo of Frente para la Victoria, the current law is obsolete. “Law 22,909 dates back to 1983, to the dictatorship, and does not encompass updates that increased public access to vaccines at all stages of life and reduced the fragmentation of the health system.” It only mandates vaccines for children, for example, even though the national calendar obligates people of all ages to get vaccinated.
The anti-vaxxer movement is not strong here. In 2017, Argentina became the first Latin American country to incorporate meningitis, and the third to incorporate HPV vaccine for males, into its calendar of obligatory vaccinations. It is also the only country that mandates Hepatitis A, the inclusion of which reduced the number of liver transplant patients from ten thousand to approximately fifty.
Paula Urroz of Cambiemos, who authored “Informed Consent on Vaccination,” is among a small number of skeptics. Some believe that vaccination contradicts the Nuremberg Code, which maintains the right to life and physical integrity, and National Law 26,529, which enacts parental rights and the right to informed consent.
Urroz’s own party has criticized her legislation. “It is a personal initiative, which does not reflect the majority opinion of our party,” her colleagues in Cambiemos affirmed. “Her proposal intends to generate fear in the population.”
The push to affirm vaccination as a human right could serve as insurance against future challengers. Its basis derives from the World Health Organization, which describes vaccination as the most important public health milestone, together with water potabilization.“The State must ensure the implementation of a public policy to control vaccine-preventable diseases,” said Gallardo. “It also should mandate that the vaccination certificate be present in order to carry out certain procedures (i.e. completing federal documents, job examinations, driver registration, and family allowances).” That immunization is a basic necessity, according to Gallardo, “is more than evident.”
Still, Gallardo is racing against the clock. She presented this project for the first time in 2013. It passed in the Chamber of Deputies and the Senate, was approved unanimously by the Health Commission, and has been locked in the Commissions of General Legislation and Budget ever since. Daniel Lipovetzky, Chair of the Budget Commission, promised to put the initiative on next week’s meeting agenda. If he does not, the bill risks timing out of parliamentary status.
Its advocates hope that does not happen. Among the cosignatories of Gallardo’s letter are the Argentine societies of Immunology, Pediatrics, and Medicine; the National Immunization Commission; the Center for the Study of Infectious Diseases; and the Forum of Clinical Medicine. For them, there is no time like the present. “It is imperative to reaffirm urgently that free and compulsory vaccines are a state policy in our country,” they said.