Universities left to ponder mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations on campuses
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Pretoria -Universities must take reasonable steps to ensure the health, safety and well-being of students, staff and communities when considering mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations on campuses.
This is according to Universities of South Africa, which reiterated its support for a policy that mandated vaccination to prevent campuses from being breeding grounds for infections.
Universities of South Africa spokesperson Mateboho Green said it was important to understand the context of the responsibilities that faced universities, and the best scientific advice available.
With the roll-out of South Africa’s vaccine programme well under way, Green said the opportunity existed for the country to return to some level of normality. “Now we do have a new weapon to help us fight the pandemic – vaccinations. We must begin with the idea that universities are congregated settings, with thousands of individuals occupying common spaces,” he said.
“The best scientific evidence shows that the most effective way available to protect these settings against outbreaks of Sars-CoV-2 infections and against subsequent serious illness, hospitalisation and death is through ensuring that individuals are fully vaccinated."
While all 26 institutions were still grappling with the challenge of understanding how to achieve the full return of students and staff safely, Green said universities were required by legislation, and in particular the Occupational Health and Safety Act, to take steps to secure the safety of staff, students and the wider community.
Admittedly, she said that while the Constitution guaranteed individuals certain rights, alongside these rights were countervailing responsibilities individuals had towards one another so as to advance the common good.
"Individual rights should not trump the common good. Public health is a common good. So, the engagements in universities to ensure that health, safety and well-being of staff, students and local communities are not a matter of the infringement of individual rights but rather the balancing of individual and social rights," she said,
The University of Pretoria Vice- Chancellor, Professor Tawana Kupe, said they were not keen on making vaccinations mandatory at present. This was despite the committee of medical school deans at the university having agreed that people within the health sciences environment had to vaccinate as they worked with front-facing patients.
For the general university population, Kupe said he did not support mandatory vaccinations at present. "We might get there, but I hope we never get there, and the reason is for us to give a chance for encouragement, persuasion and peer discussions so that people can make the decision to vaccinate.
"We want to be clear, however, that at the university we strongly endorse vaccinations and want everyone vaccinated as soon as possible. But our role as a university is to spread knowledge and let people be persuaded by it, because going immediately mandatory, you undermine that broader aim," Kupe said.