Teenage students and parents across South Korea are mounting protests over the looming enforcement of vaccine passports for adolescents, saying the measure amounts to forcing inoculation upon minors and could hinder the learning rights of the un-jabbed.
Amid the Covid-19 resurgence and a pileup of infections among young students, the government announced that the vaccine pass requirements will be extended to students aged 12 to 18, starting from February 2022, reports Yonhap News Agency.
The decision will require them to present a certificate of vaccination against Covid-19 or a negative test result to be allowed into restaurants, cafes and other multi-use facilities frequented by students, including cram schools, internet cafes and public study rooms.
Inoculation rates remain low among teenagers, with 29.8 per cent of those aged 12 to 17 fully vaccinated till date, compared with the country’s overall rate of slightly over 80 per cent.
Many students and parents are expressing anger at what they denounce as “discrimination against those not vaccinated” and “effective coercion for adolescents to get vaccinated”.
An online petition against the latest vaccine pass measure was filed on the website of Cheong Wa Dae (Presidential Palace) on December 3, shortly after its announcement.
The petition garnered endorsement from 74,000 people in the first three days.
The petitioner, who identified herself as a mother of four children, questioned its effectiveness.
“I believe cram schools are not a place where people remove a mask and eat… I am curious about why the vaccine pass needs to be extended to children when there is a considerable number of breakthrough infection cases,” she said.
In a similar online petition filed by a high school sophomore in late November, the petitioner indignantly said the vaccine pass scheme runs against people’s basic rights to reject getting vaccinated, especially in the presence of many breakthrough infections.
The petition has been seconded by more than 193,000 citizens.
Internet communities among parents of students have also been flooded with complaints arguing that the decision could hinder students’ learning activities.
Yang Dae-rim, an 18-year-old YouTuber, has said he is planning to file a collective petition with the Constitutional Court this week, saying the system “practically enforces vaccination and unconstitutionally violates the personal liberty on an extensive and serious scale”.
Medical experts have however, stressed that the vaccine pass scheme has the effect of providing protection for those not vaccinated, rather than enforcing vaccination.
“Vaccine passes are aimed at protecting those not inoculated,” Lee Jae-gap, an infectious disease doctor at Hallym University Hospital, said.
“Mandatory vaccination would require the unvaccinated to pay for their own test or treatment or imposing fines, but that is not our case.”