Once again, the public debate begins on the mandatory nature of vaccination against Covid-19, in this case, as an imposition on state servants. The arguments against the mandatory nature of vaccines are based on the mention of the right to bodily integrity and protection against invasive procedures in the human body, without the authorization of the patient writes Rodrigo Noriega in La Prensa
This discussion is not new, nor is it typical of Panama. In Western democratic societies and in human rights legal systems, it has been well defined that vaccination is compulsory and that the imposition of it does not violate any human right.
The legal basis
In the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama, the obligation of the State to guarantee the right to health of all Panamanians is established. Article 110 verbatim says, "in matters of health, the State is primarily responsible for the development of the following activities, integrating the functions of prevention, cure and rehabilitation," and in paragraph 4 of this article the following tasks of the State are established: "Combat communicable diseases through environmental sanitation, developing the availability of drinking water and adopting immunization, prophylaxis and treatment measures, provided collectively or individually, to the entire population." The notion of "the entire population" would base the right to demand them and the duty to fulfill them.
On the other hand, Law 48 of December 5, 2007, specifically regulates this matter and says in its article 1 the following: “Vaccination against immunopreventable diseases is established as a health measure of special attention. This vaccination process will be mandatory throughout the national territory ”. In addition, the second paragraph of article 8 of this law states: “People who exercise parental authority, guardianship or guardianship of children and people with disabilities have the obligation to comply with the instructions of the Ministry of Health in everything related to their immunization ”.
Later, Law 48 specifically imposes the following: "Residents in the national territory, without distinction of religion or race, have the obligation to keep their vaccination status updated, to keep their vaccination card and to present it when required" . This legal norm is reiterative and insists on the mandatory nature of vaccination, assigning, in article 14 of the same, the power to order mandatory vaccination, to the holder of the health portfolio, as follows: Minister of Health so that, when he considers that the health of the population is at risk, he may order the extraordinary immunization actions that are necessary, which will be mandatory for all residents of the Republic ”.
The international perspective
In February 2021, the Vatican State was the first government that established the mandatory vaccination of all employees of that State, under penalty of dismissal.
On April 8, 2021, the European Court of Human Rights ruled that mandatory vaccination and the ability of European states to enforce it does not violate human rights.
For its part, with regard to Latin America and the Caribbean, the Protocol of San Salvador to the American Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Panama through Law 21 of 1992, establishes in its article 10, numeral 2, that: "In order to make the right to health effects, the States parties undertake to recognize health as a public good and particularly to adopt the following measures to guarantee this right." The same article, in its literal C, specifies the following: "total immunization against the main infectious diseases ..." This article is binding on Panama and what it means is that the Panamanian State is obliged to vaccinate its entire population. This mandate then requires the mandatory vaccination.
Public servants are obliged to comply with all constitutional, legal, judicial, and administrative mandates emanating from the competent authority. Because the essence of his condition as a public servant implies compliance with the country's regulations in favor of citizens and in defense of the State, his complete vaccination is required as a protection measure for the citizens who receive his services, as well as of the public servants themselves who can be infected with Covid-19, as has already happened in numerous public offices.
Let us understand the particular situation of public servants. Just as they are not allowed to perform their work naked, under the consumption of alcoholic or narcotic beverages. What is the reason for this? The integrity of the public service.
There are special conditions in which the public service is provided, such as schedules, identification cards, uniforms and even usual security measures (firefighters, Sinaproc and captains of the Panama Canal Authority). Of course, there is also the ban on smoking in public offices, which is clearly a limitation of a right for health reasons.
The decision of the Laurentino Cortizo government to demand the vaccination of all public servants or weekly swabs is just an intermediate step for the current government to demand what should have been an obligation from the first moment that vaccination was available: the public servants should have been the first.
There is a very generalized, intentional confusion between “compulsory” and violent action by the State.
Nobody is proposing that the Crowd Control Unit of the National Police visit house to house and grab each citizen by the arms so that a nurse injects the vaccine and repeats that action four weeks later, and then three months later, for the reinforcement.
In the case of public servants, the State does not have to tie up anyone to roll up their shirt sleeves and forcibly vaccinate them. What you can do is simply exercise your authority against a public servant who breaks the law and apply the appropriate sanction, be it suspension from office or dismissal.