One of the more hotly debated issues, in the global welter of reporting (and misinformation) about COVID-19 vaccines, is whether children below the age of majority should be given the COVID-19 vaccine. Even as infection from the Delta variant is surging among children in multiple countries, a Kaiser Family Foundation poll recently calculated that approximately half of parents are holding off on COVID vaccinations for their children and found “significant opposition to schools mandating the vaccines for children ages 12-17.”
In the midst of this global debate, the Saudi Arabian Public Prosecution Service (PPS) has taken an exceptionally bold step to ensure that children receive all required vaccinations, including COVID. According to Arab News, the PPS has declared that every child under age 18 “has the right to be vaccinated against diseases and failure to do so amounts to abuse.” This statement is firmly based in Saudi law.
Article 1 of Saudi Arabia’s Child Protection System, any failure to provide a child’s “basic needs or failure to do so, including: physical, health, emotional, psychological, educational, intellectual, social, cultural and security needs” is considered neglect. The Child Protection System also provides that a child must be provided with vaccines “as specified by the relevant health authorities and in accordance with the scheduled dates and periods prescribed in this regard.” Under Article 3/3 of the Child Protection System, not completing a child’s required health vaccinations is considered abuse or neglect.
Moreover, Article 18 of the Child Protection System directs the relevant authorities to take “all appropriate measures” for “[p]revention of infectious and dangerous diseases of the child” and “[s]upporting the school health system to play its full role in the field of prevention and health guidance.” In that regard, the Saudi government has previously directed that only fully vaccinated students could return to the classroom when the new school year begins at the end of August.
Under Saudi law, providing vaccinations to a child is the duty of the child’s father or guardian, and authorities “are obliged to create a medical file for every child to register the required vaccinations and the development of his or her health conditions.” In addition, school health or substitute health authorities are required, at least annually, to conduct periodic medical checkups for school students throughout pre-university education levels.
This announcement by the PPS is not surprising, in light of the global surge of the Delta variant and the fact that only 30 percent of Saudi Arabia’s population has received full COVID vaccination. Nonetheless, few countries are likely to take as strong a position on child COVID vaccination as Saudi Arabia has – at least until after clinical trials, perhaps this fall, further establish that children can safely be vaccinated and health authorities can establish how great a risk COVID continues to pose to children.