President Cyril Ramaphosa says those that choose not to vaccinate increase the risk for a resurgence of infections and prolonged economic hardship for the rest of the population.
The President said this when he responded to oral questions in a hybrid sitting of the National Assembly on Friday.
“If we can vaccinate a large proportion of our population, particularly the adult population, by December, we can avoid another devastating wave of infections and hard lockdowns.
“Those who refuse to be vaccinated are increasing the risks for all of us, not only for a further resurgence of infections, but of prolonged economic hardship and lack of recovery.
“We therefore all have a responsibility to encourage South Africans over the age of 18 to go to their nearest vaccination sites today to protect themselves, to protect others and to help all of us get our economy back on track. Above all, vaccines are free in our country, they are safe and effective,” he said.
The President said since the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic in March last year, more than 82 000 people are known to have succumbed to the disease in South Africa and nearly 2.8 million people are known to have been infected.
He said the virus has caused a massive damage to the economy and disrupted education, and has increased levels of poverty and unemployment.
“When combined with other preventative measures such as mask wearing and social distancing, the COVID-19 vaccine is the most effective instrument that we have to prevent deaths, reduce infections and restore the economic and social life of our country.
“Evidence shows that COVID-19 vaccines reduce the chances of severe disease, hospitalisation and death,” he said.
Leaders urged to encourage vaccination
The President said some leaders of society have contributed to vaccine hesitancy.
“Yes, there is hesitancy in our country in a few pockets of our community, and some of it unfortunately is also being encouraged and propelled by statements and positions that are articulated [by some leaders].
“Around the whole world, millions of people are being vaccinated against COVID-19 and let’s say that if one looks historically in our own lives, we have all been vaccinated.
“From a very young age, each one of us has been vaccinated. Even before I was vaccinated for COVID-19, I had to be vaccinated for yellow fever and when I was told that my yellow fever certificate for previous vaccinations had expired and if I wanted to travel to certain countries, especially on our continent, I should have that and if not, I should not bother.
“Vaccination is not a new thing to all of us. Therefore, for me it is absolutely bizarre that when we are dealing with a pandemic that is killing people more directly in front of our eyes, that we should be encouraging people not to be vaccinated when it has been proven that vaccination does actually save lives.”
Regulations for employees, employers on vaccination
President Ramaphosa said, however, no one should be forced to vaccinate.
He said that instead, there is a need to use the available scientific evidence to encourage people to be vaccinated to protect themselves and also to protect people around them.
“At the same time, our occupational health and safety laws require that we ensure a safe working environment.
“This situation poses challenges for employers who want to keep their workers safe from COVID-19 by respecting the rights of those who don’t want to be vaccinated.
“On the 11th of June this year, the Department of Employment and Labour issued consolidated directions on occupational health and safety measures in terms of the Disaster Management Regulations.
“The directions provide guidelines for employers that intend to make vaccinations mandatory.
“Such employers need to determine the category of employees to be vaccinated, taking into account the vulnerability of the employees owing to age or any comorbidities that they would have, as well as the risks that are posed as a result of the role of the employee for the work that they do.
“The implementation of any mandatory vaccination policies must in the end be based on mutual respect, which is the respect and rights of the people, which achieves a balance between public health imperatives, the Constitutional rights of employees and the efficient operations of the employer’s business. That is quite a delicate balance that needs to be struck.
“Employees may refuse vaccination on medical or Constitutional grounds. In such instances, the employer should counsel the employee and if requested, allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative or a trade union official as well as a health practitioner.
“These necessary steps should be taken to responsibly accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated and it could range from the employee continuing to work at home without contact with others or customers or suppliers, or to be placed in an area where they are able not to interface with others to spread the virus.”