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Uganda's Parliament Embroiled in Vaccine Debate

FILE - Uganda's parliament in the capital Kampala, pictured on September 28, 2017.
FILE - Uganda's parliament in the capital Kampala, pictured on September 28, 2017.

Ugandan parliamentarians are embroiled in a debate over whether unvaccinated members should be allowed access to the chambers.

The Ugandan Parliament implemented a mandatory vaccination policy on Monday, saying everyone - members, staff, and visitors - must be vaccinated if they are attending parliament sessions.

Parliament leadership said the policy reflects President Yoweri Museveni's call for citizens - including political leaders - to be vaccinated to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

But the opposition leadership says the policy does not take into account what it says are severe shortages of the vaccine and the need for the public to be vaccinated before politicians.

“Before forcing political leaders to take it up, make that available to the rest of the citizens,” Mathias Mpuuga, the leader of the minority in Ugandan parliament, told VOA this week.

President Yoweri Museveni told Ugandans last week in a speech to the nation that there is a wide supply of vaccines but that many Ugandans have not been vaccinated.

There are 4.7 million vaccines available, the president said, and less than 3 million vaccines have been distributed. Only 348,000 people are fully vaccinated, Museveni said.

The president wants 12 million people vaccinated by the end of the year, out of a population of 44 million.

But opposition lawmakers said the president's desire are a fantasy and they dispute his figures of vaccine availability.

“I don't think there is vaccine hesitancy in Uganda. I think that our challenge is the lack of vaccines,” Joel Ssenyonyi, a member of parliament from the National Unity Platform party, told Uganda's NBS television.

Deputy parliament speaker Anita Among notified members last week that they will be required to present COVID-19 vaccination cards in order to be granted access to the parliament building.

Parliament members had been meeting in tents to avoid spreading the virus and as plans unfolded in August to return to the 100-seat chamber, vaccine mandates were put into motion.

But minority leader Mpuuga told VOA that the directive undermines the nation's bill of rights and that the government should not force the vaccine upon its people.

"I'm very sure the pronouncement cannot be enforced," he said.