Universities of South Africa supports vaccine mandates as institutions mull policy directive
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A heated debate on whether to make Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory for staff and students at universities and collages is currently under way as institutions decide whether to issue a policy directive as plans are being made for upcoming academic year and as a looming fourth wave.
The issue of making vaccines mandatory has been a contentious subject as many companies have been looking at whether they can make it compulsory for staff to be vaccinated for Covid-19.
Universities of South Africa, a body that represents 26 public institutions, indicated it would support the call for a policy that mandates vaccination to prevent campuses from being Covid-19 breeding grounds.
“Universities SA and the universities are deeply engaged with the challenge of having students back on campus and taking classes. It may well be that there may be an increased use of technology but there is also a clear recognition that learning and teaching are intensely social activities,” said Universities of South Africa Chief Executive Professor Ahmed Bawa.
“There is (a) need to ensure the safety of students and staff and to prevent outbreaks of Covid-19 on campuses. Education institutions are congregate settings which are very much at risk. It is on this basis then that Universities SA does support the call for vaccines to be mandatory.
“There may well be individuals who do not wish to take the vaccines for a variety of reasons. Clearly, there will have to be structures and processes to address such appeals. And perhaps require such individuals to take regular Covid-19 tests – perhaps once a week.”
Calls and queries to the Department of Higher and Education and Training on whether such a mandate would be supported or implemented at government-run Technical Vocational Education and Training (TVET) colleges were not responded to. There are currently 50 registered TVET colleges across the country with over 360 campuses spread out in urban and rural areas.
Bawa said questions around how institutions would be able to implement such a mandate would be made easier by having a sector-wide decision that will make it easier to manage and work towards a more cohesive approach.
In the Western Cape two of the four major institutions have been mulling over a decision on whether to implement this in time for the beginning of 2022 academic year.
On Friday the University of Cape Town’s Senate debated on a motion of vaccine mandate and are expected to vote on the matter this week before the institution’s Council makes a final determination.
“The Senate discussed and deliberated on the complex matter fully, taking into consideration a range of views. A ballot of the Senate members present at the meeting will follow early next week,” said the institution’s Elijah Maholola.
“UCT reiterates that any final decision on a matter of policy for the university will have to be a decision of the Council. If taken forward, any decision of the motion will ultimately be made by Council (which) will consider the proposal thoroughly before coming to any decision.”
Martin Viljoen from Stellenbosch University said the institution established a task team to investigate the possibility of a mandate.
“A task team has been appointed to do a risk assessment of the various factors involved for staff and students at SU not getting vaccinated. This is necessary in accordance with a regulation on health and safety issued by the Department of Employment and Labour in June this year,” he said.
“The outcome of the risk assessment will guide our vaccination policy. Management and SU's Institutional Committee for Business Continuation (managing the University’s response to the pandemic) will make a recommendation to Council, who will then make a final decision at its meeting on December 2.
“It is an institutional priority for SU that all staff and students are vaccinated in the interest of health and safety. SU opened its own Covid-19 vaccination centre in August at the Lentelus Sports Clubhouse.
“Nearly 2000 students and 420 staff members have received their vaccinations at Lentelus. They have used facilities elsewhere too.”
The University of the Western Cape’s Gasant Abarder said mandatory vaccinations was not a policy the institution was currently considering.
“(UWC) will be guided by the protocols for Covid-19 as set by the Presidency and the National Department of Health. UWC is also guided by a sectoral approach and engages on such matters with organisations like Higher Health and Universities South Africa.”
To date the institution says it has vaccinated 1 540 students with a single dose while another 397 fully vaccinated. As many as 872 staff members have received a single dose and 814 are considered fully vaccinated.
“Additionally, 774 family members of staff and students have received a single dose, and 507 are fully vaccinated. Additionally, staff and students may have been vaccinated at other vaccination sites,” said the university’s Harriet Box.
Cape Peninsula University of Technology’s Lauren Kansley said since mandatory vaccinations are not mandated by law, they were not pursuing that route.
“Our vaccination centre has so far provided just shy of 9 000 vaccinations to staff students and members of the public,” she said.