Biosecurity measures and the vaccine against COVID – 19 in Honduras, mandatory or not?

Written by:

Susan Perdomo

 

Currently, COVID – 19 continues to be a global threat, being still classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a “pandemic”, categorization that places COVID – 19 within the group of diseases that throughout history have affected the health of humanity on a large scale, such as the Black Death, smallpox, the so-called 1918 Spanish flu and the outbreak of influenza A (HN101) of 2009. These other diseases have been controlled and, in some cases, eradicated with scientific advances.

 

The possibility of reducing the cases or eradicating COVID – 19 through the established biosecurity measures (use of a mask, social distancing and frequent hand washing, among others), and the option of the application of vaccines created by recognized laboratories, reminds us of the importance in acknowledging the legal responsibilities that may arise.

 

First of all, we must bear in mind the supreme right that the Constitution of the Republic of Honduras grants, when it specifically indicates “the right to health protection is recognized (…)[1], however, the same legal precept, establishes an equally supreme duty, when it states “(…) It is everyone’s duty to participate in the promotion and preservation of personal and communal health[2].

 

With the primary purpose of reducing the contagion of COVID – 19 to safeguard the right to life, the authorities have decreed, through various regulations, the mandatory use of a mask and the fulfillment of the biosafety protocols, therefore being of obligatory compliance, whether as citizens, residents, employers and / or workers.

 

According with the above, we find in our Labor Code, that workers in the performance of their duties have the obligation to “abide by the preventive and hygiene measures agreed by the competent authorities and those indicated by the employers for their safety and personal protection[3] ; likewise, the aforementioned legal body regulates that “the manifest and repeated refusal of the worker to adopt preventive measures or to follow the procedures indicated to avoid accidents or illnesses[4]“, which empowers the employer, prior to the established legal procedures, to impose disciplinary sanctions and / or, in the second case, dismiss the worker with just cause, and consequently exonerate the employer from the payment of benefits. On the other hand, the employer also becomes obliged to comply with the safety and hygiene measures at work that are prescribed in the laws, since its non-compliance empowers the worker to terminate his employment contract with just cause[5]. All of the above is applicable, without prejudice to the existence of internal regulations within the companies or agreements between employer-employee that entail previous procedures or minor sanctions in the case of employees.

 

In consequence, the referred norms currently entail disciplinary sanctions (for employees) and even the temporary closure of establishments (of companies)[6]; that is why that the regulations decreed must be complied with, in order to protect themselves from COVID – 19.

 

In relation to the obligation to apply the COVID – 19 vaccine, the WHO has reiterated that each country must determine its own regulations, which is why they consider that it is vitally important to work towards informing people about the implications and benefits of vaccines and let them decide for themselves. Currently, countries such as Israel, even though they have not established the obligation to be vaccinated, has created the so-called “green passport”, which allows those vaccinated to enter currently restricted areas, such as theaters, gyms, etc., and most likely other countries will choose to implement it as a requirement to enter their territory, as is currently the case with the yellow fever vaccine in South America.

In Honduras, through the Vaccine Law – issued on May 18, 2014 – it was established that every inhabitant of the Republic must undergo immunization for vaccine-preventable diseases determined by the Secretary of State in the Office of the Health (SSOH) [7], except in the case of medical contraindications[8]; additionally imposes to the employers the obligation of requesting to the workers the vaccination card established by the SSOH, and therefore they are responsible for compliance with the vaccination [9], for which, in case the vaccine is applied in the workplace, it is convenient that the worker subscribes an informed consent for the employer’s protection.

 

 

On December 07, 2020, the “Free COVID- 19 Vaccine For All” Law[10] was approved, and on its last reform, calls for the incorporation of the aforementioned vaccine by SSOH into the National Vaccination Scheme through the Expanded Program of Immunizations (EPI), this aside from the fact that SSOH has expressly established in the project called “Honduras COVID- 19 Emergency Response”, in which it specifically states that “(…) although no one is obliged to be vaccinated, there are significant benefits in its application (…)” and in line with the WHO, which invites people to decide for themselves about the application or not of the vaccine, currently the authorities have chosen in practice to consider that it is optional, coupled with the scarce and limited option for the population to obtain it.

 

For all the above, both workers and employers, general population, we must continue to comply with the rules that contribute to the non-spread of COVID- 19. In this regard, let us remember, as indicated by Tedros Ghebreyesus, Director of the WHO “… none of us will be safe until we all are. The solutions are in our hands.”

[1] Constitution of the Republic of Honduras, Chapter VII. Article 145. “The right to health protection is recognized. It is everyone’s duty to participate in the promotion and preservation of personal and community health. “

 

[2] Decree 58-2020 “Mandatory Use of Masks and Application of Biosafety Protocols” Law.

[3] Labor Code Art. 97, Section 9 “Workers Obligations”.

 

[4] Labor Code Art. 112, Paragraph L) Just causes that empower the employer to terminate the Employment Contract.

[5] Labor Code Art. 114, Paragraph K) Just causes that empower the worker to terminate the Employment Contract.

 

[6] Decree 58-2020 “Mandatory Use of Masks and Application of Biosafety Protocols” Law. Art. 9 and 10.

[7] Art 2. Decree 288-2013 Vaccine Law of the Republic of Honduras.

[8] Art. 21 Decree 288-2013 Vaccine Law of the Republic of Honduras.

 

[9] Art.19 Decree 288-2013 Vaccine Law of the Republic of Honduras: “Every employer must request from the worker, the vaccination card established by the Secretary of State in the Health Office as a prerequisite to the incorporation or hiring of work. Employers are responsible for compliance with the worker’s vaccination”.

 

[10]  Decree 162-2020 and decree reforms 193-2020 and 08-2021 of the “Free COVID- 19 Vaccine For All” Law.

 

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