When Ecuador’s Emergency Operations Committee agreed to allow travel into and out of El Oro Province for vaccinated passengers last week, it was the first time the government had imposed a vaccine mandate. Fernando Sacoto, president of the Ecuador Public Health Society, hopes to see more such mandates.
El Oro and Guayas Provinces are under a 30-day state of health emergency due to the discovery of the delta Covid-19 variant in Machala and Guayaquil.
“Such rules are necessary to return the country to normalcy,” he says. “Now, more than ever, it is important the people understand that good public health benefits everyone and must come before individual interests.”
Sacoto agrees there must be a debate about such mandates and that mandates need to be applied selectively. “This must be discussed before the rules are made. This is happening in Europe and the U.S. and we are beginning talks in Ecuador,” says Sacoto, who is working with the Ministry of Health on possible vaccination requirements.
“Most people would agree that those who interact face-to-face with the public should be vaccinated,” he says. “You can start with government workers and then consider people who work in stores, restaurants and other private establishments that serve the public. In France, they have imposed vaccine and testing requirements for visiting restaurants and bars and for using public transportation and this seems reasonable to most health professionals I’ve talked to.”
Sacoto also thinks that all school teachers should be vaccinated and is working with teachers’ unions and the Ministry of Education to develop a policy that will be in place before classes begin in September. “Everyone agrees that mandates are needed since most education occurs within confined spaces where the virus can easily circulate,” he says.
Vinicio Aldaz, spokesman for Corpeducar, which represents private schools in Ecuador, agrees. “This should be the law for both public and private institutions since it will give parents confidence that their children will be safe in the classroom,” he says, adding that his members are considering vaccinations for students but not for those under the age of 12. “The science indicates that the risk of infection is very low for young children and, as of now, we are not thinking of vaccinating this group.”
Aldaz says it is essential to return students and teachers to the classroom as soon as possible. “It will be very difficult for schools to continue to offer both in-person and virtual instruction, although this may be necessary in the short term. We need to restore the system to good health for the benefit of our students.”
He adds that very few teachers, public or private, oppose vaccines. “This is an educated group that is able to understand the science so there is little resistance to inoculation,” he says.
Epidemiologist Andrea Gómez also supports vaccine mandates or vaccine passports in some cases. “This is the coming trend and I think some version of limited mandates will be applied worldwide within a matter of months, especially for travel and attending public events,” she says. “On the other hand, we must be careful about how we apply requirements since there are those with personal objections to vaccines. We must develop effective motivational and information campaigns to encourage voluntary vaccination first. Our society is based on the concept of freedom of choice so compulsory rules must be considered carefully.”
Like Sacoto, Gómez believes that, ultimately, public well-being must be placed before individual choice. “There must be limits on personal freedom if it endangers others.”