Physicians at work at Kainuu Central Hospital in Kajaani on 8 July 2020. (Emmi Korhonen – Lehtikuva)

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CHANCELLOR OF JUSTICE Tuomas Pöysti estimates that the act on communicable diseases is not an obstacle to decreeing that social and health care employees must be vaccinated against the new coronavirus in order to protect vulnerable clients and patients.

“It’s possible to oblige social and health care workers to have vaccine immunity against serious repercussions of the disease also under the existing communicable diseases act,” he said to Helsingin Sanomat on Tuesday.

“Employers can also ask about the vaccinations.”

The Union of Health and Social Care and Early Childhood Care Professionals in Finland (Tehy) on Monday contrastively gauged that the act would have to be amended in order to make vaccinations mandatory for social and health care employees.

Section 48 of the act stipulates that special grounds are warranted to assign people with incomplete vaccine-induced immunity to work in social and health care units where clients and patients who, based on medical evaluations, are susceptible to serious consequences from communicable diseases.

The second sub-section of the section prescribes that employees and students in on-the-job training must have natural or vaccine-induced immunity to measles and chickenpox. They are also required to have vaccine-induced immunity to influenza and, if they work with children of breastfeeding age, to pertussis.

The coronavirus disease is categorised as a generally hazardous communicable disease, a more serious categorisation than the diseases referred to in section 48.

“The first sub-section of section 48 of the communicable diseases act is a lex generalis that holds special weight particularly when it comes to generally hazardous communicable diseases. It can be interpreted independently, irrespective of the second sub-section,” analysed Pöysti.

The act additionally prescribes that the general planning, steering and supervision of efforts against communicable diseases falls within the purview of the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health.

“If there’s uncertainty about the legal status among employers in the field, the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health has a statutory obligation to issue instructions for interpreting the act. There’s no obstacle to adding the coronavirus disease to section 48, and doing so could also clarify the legal status,” he said to Helsingin Sanomat.

Such a clarification, he added, would be warranted in light of decisions made last year by the Deputy Parliamentary Ombudsman and Deputy Chancellor of Justice.

Kirsi Varhila, the permanent secretary at the Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, declined to comment on the interpretation of Pöysti to YLE on Wednesday. The ministry, she wrote in a text to the public broadcasting company, is presently of the opinion that a separate, clearly defined decree would be required to make the vaccinations mandatory.

Aleksi Teivainen – HT

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