Medicine, ethics, and business experts are calling for mandatory vaccinations, reports the Sunday Times.
This follows a massive rise in new Covid-19 cases, including 16,366 new cases on Saturday at a 23.8% positivity rate.
Professor Keymanthri Moodley, who is a bioethics expert at Stellenbosch University, said government is late to the party on vaccine mandates.
“Despite suboptimal vaccine uptake over several weeks, vaccine mandates were not introduced at a time they were most needed,” she said.
Business Leadership SA CEO Busi Mavuso agreed, adding that mandatory vaccinations are crucial if government wishes to save the economy from further lockdowns and keep the unemployment rate under 50%.
Health department Director-General Sandile Buthelezi said on Friday that President Ramaphosa has established a task team that is focused on the topic of vaccine mandates, but department spokesperson Foster Mohale has since said that the team has not yet been built.
“A formal announcement will be made once it is known. This is a work in progress,” he said.
Despite government failing to enforce vaccine mandates timeously, many organizations have taken this responsibility on themselves, added Mavuso.
“Quite a few companies have actually done it because productivity is not at the level that it should be with people working from home,” Mavuso added.
“It’s just that they are not screaming from the rooftops.”
UJ said earlier this week that it will adopt a mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy and require proof of vaccination to enter university properties.
This applies to staff, students, postdoctoral research fellows, ad hoc contractors, identified stakeholders, and visitors and follows UCT’s in-principle approval of mandatory vaccinations in September.
Additionally, Discovery’s Covid-19 vaccination mandate for its employees has been very successful, with almost 95% of employees taking their shots as of 1 December.
It anticipates that by the end of 2021, when the country may be at the peak of its fourth wave, it is likely to have about 97% of its employees vaccinated.
Bloomberg reported earlier this week on a local study which found that the risk of reinfection from the omicron variant is three times higher than any previous iteration.
The authors — Juliet Pulliam of the South African Center for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis and Harry Moultrie of the National Center for Communicable Diseases — said the finding shows that Omicron is far more able to evade immunity from prior infections.
“Our most urgent priority now is to quantify the extent of Omicron’s immune escape for both natural and vaccine-derived immunity, as well as its transmissibility relative to other variants and impact on disease severity,” they wrote.
It is therefore unsurprising that the omicron variant has quickly become the dominant one in South Africa, as the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD) said that 74% of virus genomes sequenced in November were of the Omicron variety.
Although reinfections and breakthrough infections are more likely with Omicron, experts believe that vaccines will protect against severe Covid-19 symptoms and death.
“The vaccines should hold well… because they depend more on T-cell immunity and less on antibodies,” Professor Salim Abdool Karim has said.
Abdool Karim is one of South Africa’s pre-eminent infectious diseases experts and the former chairman of the government’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid–19.
“Even if there is some escape from antibodies, it’s very hard to escape T-cell immunity.”