Cape Town - The deans of medical schools have recommended compulsory coronavirus vaccination for their students and health-care workers, arguing it would protect individuals from serious illness and help slow the spread of the disease.
Medical students and health-care workers were at particularly high risk because their jobs often exposed them to high levels of the virus that causes Covid-19.
Medical ethicist Professor Keymanthri Moodley, the director of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at Stellenbosch University, said that in recent months the question of mandatory Covid-19 vaccination, or limitations on those who choose not to be vaccinated, had become a hot topic.
Moodley said that in many countries, health-care professionals and care home workers in facilities for the aged or disabled must be vaccinated as an occupational requirement.
She said they were duty bound to accept a vaccine because of their non-negotiable pledge to avoid harm to patients, colleagues and their own families.
“Other occupational groups who work in proximity to the public or in large indoor venues also have a responsibility to adhere to a mandatory vaccine policy. Likewise, barring medical contra-indications, civil society has a reciprocal duty to accept vaccinations to protect health-care and other essential workers,” she said.
UCT Faculty of Health Sciences dean, Associate Professor Lionel Green-Thompson, said the vaccination of medical students as part of the health workforce was an integral part of the protection of the patients, other health-care workers from all sectors as well the communities with whom they would be in contact through their social engagements and interactions with families and loved ones.
Green-Thompson said the national call by deans for compulsory vaccinations would have to be translated into each university’s context through sensitive engagement and education.
“Many universities have already partnered with their respective provincial governments to create accessible facilities for vaccination,” he said.
Higher Health chief executive Dr Ramneek Ahluwalia acknowledged the value of a national discourse on whether vaccinations should become mandatory.
Ahluwalia advised that they should give the national vaccination drive time to mature.
“It’s been a couple of weeks since all adults qualified for a vaccine. We are saying let us allow a reasonable time for all these components to work properly before adopting a harder mandatory approach across the board,” said Ahluwalia.
SA Parastatal and Tertiary Institutions Union (Saptu) general secretary, advocate Ben van der Walt, demanded to be included in the formulation of policies regarding mandatory vaccinations, as its primary purpose was to protect job security.
Van der Walt said various universities, including the University of Johannesburg and SU, recently confirmed they were considering mandatory vaccinations for students and staff.
SU’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences staged a vaccine solidarity rally at their Tygerberg Campus yesterday, appealing to the health-care community and wider public to stand together against the Covid-19 pandemic, and to get vaccinated.
Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA (Denosa) spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo said they were looking at the matters from two perspectives – from the reality and the health-care personal perspectives.
"The reality is that the vaccine has assisted and lessened the number of hospital admissions, and more of the admitted were those who were not vaccinated. They are the ones who are giving a big workload to the health workers," said Delihlazo.