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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

‘These executive orders are taking away human rights!’

“I think human rights have advanced so much that it’s ridiculous to go against people who are simply looking for these rights,” one protester said. (Photos by Richard Gutiérrez/The San Juan Daily Star)

Parents & professionals join forces to protest mandatory child vaccinations in schools

By Richard Gutiérrez

The COVID-19 pandemic brought with it a lot of trouble in many areas of society: closure of small businesses, countless lockdowns, increased rates of depression, social distancing preventing social contact and the cancellation of countless events, including family vacations, conventions and church gatherings, among many other public and personal activities.

One of the biggest discussions that is still ongoing almost four years after the global pandemic was officially declared is related to vaccinations. People in the mainland United States have been discussing vaccination for decades, including whether or not they are the right choice. Whether or not somebody believes in vaccines is up to every individual, but what happened Thursday in front of the island Department of Education’s central offices shows that hundreds of Puerto Ricans don’t believe in vaccines and are not willing to have the government force them on their children, just so they can go to school.

Parents and others, including health professionals, marched and protested under the scorching sun, holding up signs while spokespeople and professionals used the microphones to make their voices be heard.

“Since 1983, they have been pushing Bill 25, which supports compulsory vaccination for children in schools,” Tatiana Zeda Santiago, a spokesperson for activist organization Families For Truth PR told the STAR. “What we are seeing for the first time regarding this law is a new regulation that manifests all types unconstitutionality from Bill 25 itself; this has released all of the wrath and rage of the people toward the government because they are trying to determine family beliefs; they are trying to determine whether or not affidavits should be done yearly and they are trying to declare that affidavits that are not provided by the schools are not valid. We want to tell the people to not be fooled. An affidavit does not have a yearly term! You made an oath in front of a lawyer; you have your own personal and religious beliefs! They are trying to condition these affidavits not just in schools but in colleges as well.”

The regulation in question was signed, settled and approved as the “Regulation for Compulsory Immunization for Preschoolers and Students of Puerto Rico” by the Department of Education on June 29 of this year for both the public and private school systems. The regulation imposes vaccination upon every minor who attends public school, private school, a university or a daycare center. Violation of the regulation carries a $500 fine and even six months in prison for parents who don’t comply, and $5,000 in fines to educational institutions.

According to many parents, activists and professionals, the regulation goes against the U.S. and Puerto Rico constitutions because the right to receive an education is being conditioned on vaccination status.

The press conference in front of the Department of Education included more than 10 professionals, eight of whom are experienced medical professionals, who all went to support the protest and express their thoughts on the matter.

“Being a psychologist, things that were never seen at a psychologist’s office are now being seen,” Dr. Angie Gonzales said. “The amount of anxiety and panic attacks that are being reported by psychologists on the island, to see children who are around 7 and 8 years old suffering from these psychological traumas, the lack of proper management of the COVID infection has created a state of panic and terror that doesn’t allow our children and adults to live happy and relaxed on our island, because every month the government continues to fabricate crazy things, aberrations which have increasingly damaged the mental health of people on this island!”

Gonzales is also a pastor, which led her to add some points out of certain concerns she has about Bill 25 in terms of religious rights.

“I am concerned because of the violation of our rights of religious beliefs, which are protected by the United States Constitution,” she said. “We have a freedom of religion that doesn’t depend on any government regulations.”

Gonzales insisted that the regulation doesn’t only affect people with religious beliefs, but also affects those who are teachers and school directors.

Dr. Lionel Ramírez, meanwhile, directed criticism at politicians during the press conference.

“This fight is not necessarily against the Department of Education. We are not fighting against responsible teachers, social workers and directors who are being oppressed,” he said. “They are not only being oppressed by the Department of Education, but also by the government of Pedro Pierluisi … alongside his secretary of health, who has been the absolute arm of power that has put a chokehold on and oppressed the people for over three years.”

Ramírez also pointed a finger at the Family secretary.

One of the protesters holding a sign that said, “No more forced vaccination,” who also happens to be a health professional, told the STAR “I am a graduated nurse and when the pandemic occurred every nurse who didn’t get vaccinated was fired!”

“I think human rights have advanced so much that it’s ridiculous to go against people who are simply looking for these rights,” the demonstrator said. “We are against forced vaccination and that is a constitutional right that every person has, to accept or reject any treatment. For example, as a nurse if I have a patient that doesn’t want to receive medical treatment for Demerol, I cannot go against the patient’s desire to not take the medication. I cannot question them either. These executive orders are taking away human rights.”

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