Costa Rican officials said on Friday that they would require Covid-19 vaccinations for people under 18 “to safeguard the best interests” of children, becoming one of the first countries to implement such a mandate.
Costa Rica, which has authorized Covid shots for those 12 and over since Oct. 25, will procure vaccines for children under 12 by next year, the Health Ministry said in a statement on Friday. The statement did not mention a minimum age for vaccination and the ministry did not immediately respond to an emailed request seeking comment.
Fifty-five percent of Costa Rica’s population has been fully vaccinated, higher than the global average of 40 percent, according to a University of Oxford data set. Its vaccination rate also exceeds those of several of its neighbors in Latin America, where vaccine access has been unequal. About 73 percent of Costa Ricans between 12 and 19 were fully vaccinated as of Tuesday, the government’s statement said, following the start of that vaccination effort since Oct. 25.
Since a surge of cases in September, when Costa Rican officials recorded 17,667 cases in one week, weekly cases have dropped steadily, reaching 3,411 last week, according to government data. Officials reported 291 new hospitalizations last week, a decrease of 21 percent from the week prior.
This is not the first time Costa Rica has required a large number of its residents to get vaccinated. In February, health care workers were ordered to get shots. Two months ago, Costa Rica mandated them for all public sector workers. It has also empowered private companies to require their employees to get vaccinated.
Starting Jan. 8, the country will require proof of vaccination to enter places like hotels, restaurants, bars, casinos, museums and gyms, according to President Carlos Alvarado Quesada’s office. Currently, those establishments can either operate at 50 percent capacity without a vaccination requirement for customers, or operate at full capacity with one.
Costa Rica, whose economy relies on tourism, has opened its borders to visitors regardless of vaccination status, according to the government’s official tourism website. Unvaccinated tourists must purchase insurance that covers medical expenses and lodging expenses for quarantine in case of a coronavirus infection.
The health ministry said Covid vaccines were joining a list of other shots that were already mandatory for children in Costa Rica, including vaccines against chickenpox, polio and the human papillomavirus.
The country has acquired about nine million doses of Covid vaccines, according to the Costa Rican National Emergency Commission. About 998,000 of those came through donations from the United States, Canada, Spain, Austria and the Dominican Republic, the commission said. An additional 259,000 are from Covax, the global vaccine-sharing program backed by the United Nations, it said.
Parents or legal guardians, as well as the public education system and children’s advocacy agencies, are responsible for making sure children get vaccinated, health officials said. But children over 15 can receive a Covid-19 shot without being accompanied by an adult, they added.