Congress returns to discuss childhood vaccination

Congress returns to discuss childhood vaccination

The bill that criminalizes parents who do not vaccinate their children and anyone who spreads false news about vaccines is ready to be voted on by the CCJ (Constitution and Justice Commission) of the Chamber of Deputies. Authored by deputy Alice Portugal (PCdoB-BA), PL 3,842/2019 provides for a penalty of one month to one year in detention. In the current version, the penalty can be increased by 50% if the crime occurs during pandemic periods.

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The Federal Senate will begin analyzing PL 826/2019, which establishes the National Vaccination Program in Public Schools. If approved, the program will oblige all early childhood and elementary schools that receive public resources to offer a vaccination campaign in the educational establishment with the aim of facilitating the immunization of students.

Meanwhile, in the corridors of the Legislative Branch buildings, professionals move around with the aim of defending the interests of the pharmaceutical companies for which they work. Intelligent, friendly and elegant, lobbyists have several strategies for approaching parliamentarians. They often prepared by investigating the lives of deputies and senators, seeking information ranging from their opinions on health topics to hobbies. This will favor the choice of an initial topic to generate rapprochement and facilitate subsequent conversations.

Pfizer, Sanofi and AstraZeneca are some of the vaccine manufacturers that are frequently present in the offices. In lobbyists’ attacks on parliamentarians and their teams of advisors, there is no lack of financial resources to make the dialogue more pleasant: the pharmaceutical industry is among the markets that move the most money in the world.

In practice, this facilitates lunches with parliamentarians in expensive restaurants in Brasília in order to encourage dialogue or sponsor international trips to participate in events. The topics go beyond vaccines: incorporation of medicines, creation of therapeutic protocols, bills on human research, among others.

There are few concrete numbers on the performance of government relations professionals in Brazil, but, according to a survey by the Instituto Pensar Relgov, the pharmaceutical sector is the one that most demands professionals of this type, having been responsible for opening 14.8% of vacancies in the area in the period from May 2017 to May 2018. The numbers demonstrate the sector’s real interest in influencing the country’s legislation.

Low vaccination coverage means that health center stocks remain full, reducing the need for new purchases. Broader access to immunization can, of course, bring public health benefits, but it also means a greater financial return for the industry. Therefore, laws that require immunization are especially attractive to the commercial interests of pharmaceutical companies.

In search of profit, these companies tend to invest more in professionals to work within the National Congress, offering vaccines, health treatments and medicines, and providing support for the arguments that will justify bills.

Criminalizing those who do not vaccinate their children is unconstitutional, explains jurist

The political pressure to criminalize parents who do not vaccinate their children, which gained strength during the Covid-19 pandemic, is serious not only because it serves the commercial interests of the pharmaceutical industry, but also because it goes against the country’s laws, according to the lawyer Rafael Domingues, doctor in State Law.

Rapporteur of PL 3842/2019, deputy Rubens Pereira Júnior (PT-MA) issued an opinion in July that considers the idea of ​​criminalizing parents who oppose the vaccination of their children to be constitutional. Domingues disagrees with the parliamentarian.

For him, in addition to being unconstitutional, the text is disproportionate and violates the tradition of Law. “Making such conduct a crime goes against not only the constitutional right to general freedom or freedom of conscience, because Criminal Law serves as ultima ratio, or ultimate reason. In other words, I only use Criminal Law when I have exhausted all other possibilities for protecting a certain legal asset”, he explains.

Despite the ideologization of the topic during the pandemic, recent data show that, in recent years, childhood vaccination coverage for various types of diseases was actually below expectations: from 2019 to 2021, a period that coincides with the peak of Covid-19, 1 .6 million Brazilian children did not receive any dose of DTA, which prevents diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough, and polio, which can cause childhood paralysis, according to the United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef) report “World Situation of Childhood 2023: for every child, vaccination”, released in April. The number reaches 2.4 million when adding the children who, despite having received one dose, did not complete the necessary doses of DTA.

For Domingues, although the problem is relevant, it is possible to use other instruments that encourage vaccination. “An example is Bolsa Família, which historically conditioned receipt of aid on proof of vaccination. Whoever proves vaccination gets the benefit. This is the tradition of our Law. Now, moving to criminalization is a complete step backwards,” he says.

The lobbying law

Lobbying is not an illegal activity, but its influence on state bodies, especially when motivated by purely commercial interests, can make it an enemy of the public interest.

“The legislative process exists to create a healthy environment for public discussion, so that all parties can express themselves and, seeking what is the common good, come to the conclusion that it is good. The lobby mischaracterizes this and makes the selfish interests of those who sponsor the lobbyist prevail”, points out Domingues.

The actions of people who seek to influence not only the Legislative Branch, but also the Executive and the Judiciary, in order to defend the interests of industries, is nothing new. In recent times, there is a growing concern about dissociating this activity from its more controversial image. The term “lobby” itself – which, in Brazil, tends to give a negative impression – has been replaced more and more frequently by “advocacy”.

The work of lobbyists is currently the target of an attempt at regulation in Congress. Approved by the Chamber of Deputies and now being analyzed by the Federal Senate, bill 1202/2007, known as the “lobby law”, aims to regulate the activity. The 32-page text deals with conduct and consolidates possible infractions by public agents or interest representatives.

In August, the Senate’s Inspection and Control Commission (CTFC) held a public hearing on the project, at the initiative of senator Izalci Lucas (PSDB-DF). One of the main discussions was the need to ensure greater transparency in the activities of lobbyists.

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