Uganda plans to impose fines on people who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19 and those who fail to pay could be sent to prison under an amendment of a public health law currently being reviewed in Parliament.
Health Minister Jane Ruth Aceng told lawmakers on Monday that the amendment is important to repeal the obsolete provisions, revise the fines for offences committed and protect citizens.
“The bill has a section on vaccination and immunisation as a public health measure to protect the vulnerable,” she said. “When we introduce new vaccines, we need to get a mass of people so we create mass immunity. It is important that whoever is supposed to be vaccinated, is vaccinated.”
The East African country started administering COVID-19 vaccines nearly a year ago, but only about 16 million jabs have been administered in a population of 45 million. Officials are blaming widespread reluctance for the low coverage.
This has led to the Parliament’s Health Committee scrutinising the Public Health (Amendment) Bill 2021, which seeks to make coronavirus vaccination mandatory.
The new law proposes a fine of 4 million Ugandan shillings ($1,139) for those who fail to get vaccinated.
“According to the proposal, those who do not get vaccinated against COVID-19 will be fined 4 million shillings or [receive] a jail term of six months,” Parliament said in a statement on its website.
The Parliament statement on Tuesday did not say when the proposed law was likely to be brought before its members for approval.
Uganda fully reopened its economy last month after almost two years of anti-coronavirus measures that included curfews, businesses and school closures, the shutting of borders and other steps.
The strict measures helped curb the pandemic but drew widespread criticism from Ugandans whose businesses and livelihoods were affected.
The country has recorded about 163,000 cases of COVID-19 and 3,500 deaths, health ministry data shows.