While severe COVID-19 complications among kids have been extremely rare, Finnish health authorities are pushing for increased vaccination rates, while simultaneously emphasising the right to self-determination.
Finland has begun offering COVID vaccines to children aged 12-15. Remarkably, the decision about whether or not to get the shot is up to the roughly 250,000 kids themselves.
According to the country’s Patient Act, people have the right to decide about medical treatment for themselves.
During prior vaccine consultations, healthcare workers will explain to youngsters what they are being vaccinated against, what the effects of COVID-19 are, as well as describe what the vaccine will do in terms of effectiveness and its potential harm.
The issue will be subsequently handled on a case-by-case basis. Healthcare professionals will determine whether kids are capable of making such decisions, based on their age as well as their developmental level, according to vaccine specialist Hanna Nohynek, chief physician at the Institute for Health and Welfare (THL).
“Children are very different in terms of development levels. Of course age gives some indication of that, but it’s not the only factor. It depends on how mature the child is, whether they understand what’s at stake and whether they want to make the decisions for themselves. If the care worker determines a child is mature enough and wants to make the decision, then it will be dealt with accordingly,” Nohynek told national broadcaster Yle.
Ombudsman for Children Elina Pekkarinen emphasised that children and young people should be offered reliable and understandable information, as well as opportunities for discussion in the event of a disagreement with their parents.
“No one should be pressured into taking the vaccine, while at the same time no one should be forced to refuse it. The child has a right to self-determination, it’s a question about their bodies and they must be able to independently make decisions,” she said.
If a young person is unwilling or unable to decide about whether to get their COVID shot, a parent or guardian needs to do it for them, either in writing or orally.
“If parents want their child to be vaccinated but the child doesn’t, we try to reach an agreement through negotiation,” Nohynek said, assuring that no one is being forcibly vaccinated in Finland. At the same time, she said she hoped as many children as possible would get vaccines to protect themselves and others around them.
So far, it has been rare for COVID-19 to cause severe health complications among children and young people. As of June, merely 0.2 percent of 10-19 year-olds who got COVID required special medical care.
“Children are less likely to become seriously ill, but the possibility is there. The vaccines being used are effective and safe enough”, Nohynek emphasised.
To date, Finland has seen 112,000 COVID cases and over 990 deaths. It is now witnessing a surge in the number of cases, despite having administered the first dose to more than half of the population.