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By Gwen Ngwenya*
The DA, after lengthy consultation with public health experts, has taken a position on Covid-19 vaccine mandates based on the current evidence (thus it may be adjusted), which balances individual rights and responsibilities, and factors public policy considerations such as the availability of more effective interventions and the implementation thereof.
The position stresses that we strongly support, and have been advocates of Covid-19 vaccination, to protect against hospitalization and death due to Covid-19. However, we are opposed to mandatory vaccination. Evidence is emerging that vaccines are less effective at preventing transmission, as waves of infection are still occurring amongst highly vaccinated populations. Furthermore, the social risk that the policy of vaccine mandates would seek to address is relieving excessive pressure on hospitals due to Covid-19. Yet there is no significant pressure on hospitals due to Covid-19 at present.
A mandatory vaccine policy ignores evidence of some degree of natural protection through prior infection. The magnitude of excess deaths and various antibody studies suggest a large proportion of the South African population may have acquired some natural immunity through prior infection. According to Wits Professor of Vaccinology Shabir Madhi, 73% of the SA population has some degree of immunity.
Lastly, even if a strategy of State-imposed vaccine mandates was justifiable, the State lacks the capacity to implement and enforce it.
There is a caveat, namely that in very specific instances, based on a risk-based assessment, institutions may need a way to ensure that the risk of Covid-19 transmission is reduced. In such instances, the State/public institution should accept forms of evidence including, but not limited to vaccination. As an alternative to vaccination an individual could provide either:
- a negative Covid-19 test no older than 72 hours;
- a recent antibody test; or
- a positive Covid-19 test that is older than 14 days but no older than some specified period, as natural immunity does wane.
This position applies to public institutions, including universities. Private institutions should be left to decide what is best for their establishment, based on their own risk assessment. We would strongly recommend that private institutions that wish to impose a vaccine mandate, accommodate other options such as those listed above. South African establishments would not be alone globally in taking this approach. Individuals who choose not to vaccinate, should bear in mind that they will likely continue to be severely limited in their ability to travel abroad.
Covid-19 continues to have a stark age-related risk profile. Therefore, the rational strategy for South Africa is to target the high-risk groups for vaccination and boosters. This includes the 50+ age groups, those with co-morbidities, and healthcare workers. This strategy is more urgent and more practically achievable than universal coverage.
The full position can be read here.
- Gwen Ngwenya is the DA Head of Policy.
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