Dr Stavros Nicolaou, senior executive; strategic trade at Aspen Pharmacare and head of the B4SA health working group. File picture: Phando Jikelo African News Agency(ANA)
Dr Stavros Nicolaou, senior executive; strategic trade at Aspen Pharmacare and head of the B4SA health working group. File picture: Phando Jikelo African News Agency(ANA)

SA health and business experts say vaccine misinformation has to be addressed, government must consider mandatory vaccination

By Xolile Bhengu Time of article published Oct 18, 2021

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DURBAN - CALLS have been made for the government to consider making vaccination against Covid-19 mandatory due to the slow pace of the vaccination roll-out programme.

Last week, KwaZulu-Natal Premier Sihle Zikalala revealed that only 29% of eligible people in the province had been vaccinated. The province has a target of 7.2 million vaccinations, to reach herd immunity by the end of December.

Zikalala lamented that misconceptions and misinformation about Covid-19 vaccines had caused vaccine hesitancy.

Dr Stavros Nicolaou, senior executive; strategic trade at Aspen Pharmacare and head of the B4SA health working group, said the government may now have to take a firmer stance on the controversial issue of mandatory vaccination.

He said after 18 months of the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown, the economy could not afford to shed more jobs caused by hard lockdown levels, and the health system needed to go back to focusing on other clinical care areas.

Nicolaou said similar to the ban on public smoking, the government had to weigh individual rights against the risk posed to those who had been vaccinated.

“Vaccines cause less replication of the Covid-19 virus. We have to explore behavioural change enforcement, similar to smoking bans. There are no more age bands that can be introduced to get the numbers. Smokers are not allowed to give non-smokers secondary smoke. Personal individual rights end when you put others at risk.

“SA cannot afford to delay herd immunity, we have a country that has a very high disease burden of communicable diseases such as HIV where 9.2 million are on treatment and we have non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and diabetes.

“These patients have already compromised immune systems and the longer we delay enforcement, it gives the Covid-19 virus an opportunity to mutate further. At this point we need to shift from persuasion to a mandatory position or compelling,” said Nicolaou.

He said SA was also experiencing the socio-economic impact of hard lockdown levels.

“The recent riots in SA are reflective of the reality of what hard lockdowns mean. You have households where there may be 8 or 12 people stuck in a confined space; add employment and poverty to that and you have issues such as the rioting and looting that we saw in KZN and Gauteng,

“Our economy just cannot take the strain and something more drastic needs to be done. The private sector has supported a public vaccine programme and cannot lose that momentum, which we will if people don’t come forward. We have to stimulate the demand and go to the communities and address misinformation,” said Nicolaou.

He said he anticipated an announcement soon on possible booster vaccines being administered, especially for front-line health workers, as the strain of the Covid-19 pandemic grew.

“We expect a decision to be made soon on whether this will happen based on what has happened internationally.”

Dr Norman Mabasa, chairperson of the Unity of Forum of Family Practitioners and former chairperson of the SA Medical Association, agreed with Nicolau, saying that people needed to be dissuaded from avoiding vaccines, or public and private hospitals would face a catastrophic strain of the virus.

“We don’t want SA to go into a fourth wave and hard lockdown. We just can't afford it, and neither can the health system. People want to be able to travel to other countries.

“People readily go for other vaccines, why are they questioning this one? Government has to get to the core of the vaccine hesitancy to avoid another wave,” said Mabasa.

THE MERCURY

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