The Ministry of Health has maintained its position on implementation of mandatory coronavirus vaccination.
Health Minister Khumbize Kandodo Chiponda told The Daily Times Sunday that the ministry had consulted Justice Ministry officials and Office of the Attorney General (AG) on implementation modalities.
In December last year, the Presidential Taskforce on Covid announced that specific groups of people— including public servants, minibus drivers, healthcare workers and social workers including journalists— would be required to get inoculated for coronavirus because they come into contact with a lot of people in the course of their work.
However, the decision faced early hurdles, with the Malawi Human Rights Commission urging the government to tread carefully on the issue.
As debate raged on the issue, Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (Cdedi) Executive Director Sylvester Namiwa and journalist Mundango Nyirenda dragged the government to court over the issue.
Last week Thursday, the High Court sitting in Lilongwe threw out, with costs, Nyirenda and Namiwa’s application for judicial review on the rollout of mandatory Covid vaccination for selected sectors.
Mundango and Cdedi had asked the court to rule that the decision by the Ministry of Health to introduce mandatory vaccination by January 2022, was arbitrary, unreasonable and unconstitutional.
The two also wanted the court to rule that the declaration to administer the vaccine without citizens free and informed consent amounted to interference with the human right of bodily integrity, which is part of the right to private life enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
But, in his submission, AG Thabo Chakaka Nyirenda described Namiwa and Nyirenda as trouble-makers and busy-bodies who were not better placed to represent Malawians on health matters.
The AG argued that the applicants demonstrated a lack of understanding of the difference between an ordinary suit and judicial review application, arguing that only ordinary suits would have the AG joining as a defendant.
He prayed that all the defendants in the case— namely the Ministry of Health, Speaker of the National Assembly, the AG and unknown others— be struck out from the proceedings on the ground that they are improper parties since none of them made the decision that resulted in the complaint.
Dismissing the application, High Court Judge Kenyatta Nyirenda said the applicants failed to show a fit case for further investigation in the proposed judicial review.
“What we have here is the proverbial ‘a storm in a tea cup’ or ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’ [case]. The application for permission to commence judicial review is, accordingly, dismissed,” the ruling reads.
And, following the court’s decision, Kandodo Chiponda has indicated that the ministry’s position has not changed, but that ministry officials were engaging Justice Ministry officials and the AG for guidance in accordance with the constitution.
“We have never changed. I know some people took us to court but, fortunately, the court ruled against them. As we are talking now, the position remains the same.
“We are pursuing this mandatory vaccination issue but we are waiting for guidance because they have to look at the other aspects in terms of human rights; but in terms of the intention, it is still there” she said.
The minister also commended traditional and religious leaders that have been encouraging their subjects and congregants, respectively, to get vaccinated against Covid.
By Saturday, about 758,000 people in Malawi were fully vaccinated against Covid.
Mathews Kasanda is a journalist who holds a Bachelor of Arts in Journalism from University of Malawi (The Polytechnic).
In 2015, Media Institute of Southern Africa awarded him the Best Print Media Education Journalist of the Year accolade.
He joined Times Group Newsroom in September 2019.