Gov’t modifies vaccine mandate, says there will be no ‘direct’ penalties for those who don’t comply
Ecuador’s Ministry of Health announced Thursday morning that it is making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for all residents. “This decision is the result of the current epidemiological situation that shows an increase in infections as well as the circulation of the new Omicron variant,” the Ministry said in a statement.
On Thursday night, however, the government said there would be no “direct sanctions” against those who ignore the mandate. “We hope that everyone complies but there will be no penalties for those who do not,” the Ministry of Health said. “Instead, we believe that limitations of access to public and private events, as well as denial of entry to restaurants, stores and public offices will encourage those who are reluctant to be vaccinated to comply.”
The change from the original order followed an outcry from businesses and questions by legal experts about the constitutionality of the mandate. Some medical professionals also complained that the Health Ministry was “overreacting” to the threat of the Omicron variant which they say may signal the end of the pandemic.
To back up proof of vaccine entry requirements the Emergency Operations Committere (COE) announced new enforcement measures Thursday. According to COE president Juan Zapata, locations that do not comply with the requirement will be “sanctioned severely.” He said that additional law enforcement personnel will be assigned to the effort.
The Health Ministry reported that between December 20 and 21, there was an increase of 467 Covid-19 infections in the country as well as increased demand in some hospitals for critical care beds. Shortly after making the announcement, the Ministry released the “Mandatory Guidelines for Vaccination Against SARS CoV-2,” the document that outlines the new plan.
The Ministry said that the vaccination order will not apply to those with certified medical conditions that could be aggravated by vaccines.
In comments to the press, Health Minister Ximena Garzón said that the Ministry has the authority to mandate vaccines under the Organic Health Law, which grants the Ministry responsibility to “declare it the obligation of all citizens to be immunized” against diseases that threaten the national health. “We are, unfortunately, in circumstances that require us to put the interests of all Ecuadorians above those of a few individuals,” she said.
Garzón also expressed disappointment that many private and public facilities with capacity limitations were not enforcing the proof of vaccine requirement Thursday morning. The requirement, ordered by the COE, went into effect at midnight Thursday. “Although some businesses are enforcing the rule, others are not,” she said. “We are taking actions to improve compliance, including fining businesses that do not follow the order.”
According the Ministry of Health, 78 percent of Ecuadorians over the age of five have been fully vaccinated, the second highest rate in Latin America and ninth highest in the world.