Experts push for mandatory vaccinations in South Africa

The emergence of the new Omicron variant of Covid-19, combined with the sudden rise in infections over the past week, has led to renewed calls for compulsory vaccinations in South Africa.

The National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) met on Saturday to discuss the emergence of the new variant, and the president is expected to address the nation today.

According to a Sunday Times report, civil society leaders have warned of the backlash that President Cyril Ramaphosa will face if he implements more substantial lockdown restrictions.

Martin Kingston, Business for SA chair, urged the president to avoid implementing stricter lockdown restrictions that would cause further economic damage and instead bolster the vaccination drive.

“There are two areas that can fundamentally increase and improve the vaccination rate: restricted access to venues and vaccine mandates,” Kingston said.

“It [the government] doesn’t need to impose it itself, but obviously we would welcome it if it did, but we do believe they need to acknowledge the need now to aggressively drive the vaccination rate, which is the only way we are going to curb transmission,” he added.

Mosh Moshabela, the acting deputy vice-chancellor at the University of KwaZulu-Natal

University of KwaZulu-Natal acting deputy vice-chancellor Mosh Moshabela agreed, saying that the president will struggle to convince South Africans to comply with lockdown rules after an election campaign that ignored them.

“They are going to find it difficult for people to even take them seriously. They must apologise and say, ‘We did not expect a new variant,'” he said.

Moshabela echoed the calls to make vaccinations to be mandatory.

“SA needs to move more firmly to mandatory vaccination until we at least have a high coverage of about 70%,” he said.

Keymanthri Moodley, a bioethics expert from the University of Stellenbosch, showed support for the idea of compulsory vaccinations.

“We should be implementing a mandatory vaccine policy with immediate effect to prevent any more variants developing,” she said.

“This decision has been delayed unnecessarily.”

She said that vulnerable populations, combined with low vaccination rates and large numbers of unvaccinated people, are to blame for the development of new, more severe variants.

Prof Mary-Ann Davies, Director of the Centre for Infectious Disease Epidemiology and Research at the University of Cape Town

Mary-Anne Davies, an infectious disease expert from the University of Cape Town, said the priority should be rapidly increasing vaccination coverage.

“The single most important thing we can do is to increase vaccine coverage as rapidly as possible in the most vulnerable groups, and this is where energies should be directed, rather than at lockdowns at this stage,” she said.

Constitutional law expert and advocate Steven Budlender previously argued that government is morally and constitutionally obliged to legislate mandatory vaccinations.

Budlender said that Covid-19 threatened fundamental rights, including the right to life and physical integrity, as well as the right to health, due to the unprecedented pressure it placed on health services.

“This is clearly a case where the government is obliged to create legislation or regulations that will make vaccinations compulsory to ensure that these fundamental rights are protected,” Budlender said.

Following the identification of the Omicron variant and rapidly increasing infection rates in South Africa, nations around the world implemented travel restrictions on South Africa.

The UK imposed travel bans on South Africa, with several countries following suit, including the United States.

This resulted in widespread cancellations of hotel and flight bookings in South Africa.

Adrian Gardener, chair of the hotel operator The Mantis Group, and David Frost, CEO of the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association, described the cancellations as “an absolute nightmare” and a “horror show”.

South Africa’s daily average vaccination rate dropped below 100,000 last week.

Now read: Stricter lockdown measures planned for South Africa

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Experts push for mandatory vaccinations in South Africa