Costa Rica mandated Covid-19 vaccines for children. But not everyone's on board

People wait for their children to get vaccinated at a Covid-19 vaccination site at the Children's Discovery Museum of San Jose in Costa Rica in January.

(CNN)It started as a heated discussion between a father and his son's doctor. But it quickly escalated to a multi-person fist-fight that shocked the nation.

Inside the St. Vincent de Paul Hospital in Costa Rica's Heredia province, not far from the capital San Jose, the argument -- over the country's Covid-19 vaccine mandate -- came to blows last week, leading to the arrests of seven people.
But this fight proved more consequential than for just the people involved: The incident forced authorities to temporarily close the hospital's doors, marking a dark moment in the country's fight against the pandemic and highlighting the debate around its mandatory vaccination policy.
    Last November, Costa Rica became the first country in the world to mandate Covid-19 vaccines for minors, with all children 5 and older required to get vaccinated, barring medical exemptions.
      More than 91% of people between the ages of 12 to 19 have received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine, according to the latest government data, but vaccinations for younger children have stalled -- with just 12% of children 5 to 11 so far having received one dose.
      A survey published by the Pan-American Health Organization in October found that nearly 94% of the Costa Rican population considers it "important that all people get vaccinated against Covid-19." In the same survey, 89% of parents said they would vaccinate their children who are 12 or younger.
      And many appear to agree with the mandate.
        One study by the University of Costa Rica's School of Statistics found that 75% of respondents said they supported the vaccination mandate for people 18 and older, with support dropping along with age groups; 69% of people agreed with a vaccine mandate for 12-17-year-olds, while 59% were supportive of the measure for children between 5-12.
        Still, a small, yet vocal group of parents -- like the ones that encircled the hospital last week -- are opposing the measure, catapulting the debate around mandatory vaccines onto the floors of Congress.
        People take part in a demonstration against the Covid-19 vaccination mandate for children in San Jose, Costa Rica, in January.
        The attack in Heredia unfolded after a six-year-old boy was admitted to the hospital for a respiratory problem, according to the hospital's director, Priscila Balmaceda Chaves. When the attending doctor learned the child was not vaccinated, he told the child's father that he would need to do so. Under the mandate, a child can get vaccinated even if their parents do not consent, however that process is not instantaneous, according to public health expert Roman Macaya Hayes, who heads the Costa Rican Social Security Institute.
        Angered that his child might be vaccinated without his permission, the father -- along with six others -- went down to stop it, according to officials. That's when the fist fight broke out.
        Congressional President Silvia Hernández Sánchez called the group a "mob, angered by foolishness," whose violent actions "put both staff and patients at risk," with Costa Rica's public security minister asking the courts to "apply the full severity of the law."
        Hayes told CNN that protecting the health of a child is equivalent to preventing child abuse, as the result is the same: ensuring the wellbeing of minors.
        He explained that mandatory vaccination is backed by legislation, including laws that support the "constitutional right to life and, therefore, health."
        "The collective good supersedes the rights of the individual," Hayes said.
        Not all lawmakers agree -- although they, too, appear to be in the minority.