For more than a week, veterinarians and animal welfare services have been in limbo as to whether they will receive Covid-19 vaccines as essential workers.
The South African Veterinary Association (Sava) and the Black Veterinary Forum (BVF) wrote to Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize on 11 January to clarify their position as essential workers, but have not yet received a response.
Sava managing director Gert Steyn told The Citizen that regulations dating back to South Africa’s first lockdown, in March 2020, included veterinary services and animal welfare workers as essential services.
Since there has not yet been an amendment to regulation 43148, Steyn said as far as Sava is concerned, animal health practitioners are still classified as essential workers.
However, with the country receiving a number of presentations on the health department’s planned Covid-19 vaccine, there has been no mention of when veterinarians or animal welfare services could receive their vaccines.
As per earlier regulations, essential workers would be vaccinated as part two of the three-phase vaccine rollout plan.
“We were not aware of the “exclusion” until the Minister of Health resented the Covid-19 vaccination plan on the 7th of January 2021. The reason for the inverted commas is that we appreciate that it would have been impossible to include a complete list of essential workers in this presentation,” Steyn explained.
While veterinarians and animal welfare services anxiously wait to hear what Mkhize has decided to categorise them as, Sava emphasised how essential the work done by animal health practitioners is, especially in light of Covid-19.
This is because veterinarians do a significant amount of work throughout the food chain, including implementing regulations on animal and veterinary public health.
Since Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease, which is when a sickness spreads from animals to people, the expertise brought on by the sector is invaluable at this time, said Steyn.
Veterinarians also travel extensively and regularly come into contact with a large number of people every day.
“Protecting veterinarians in order to protect the public and ensuring food safety and security is therefore vital.
“Failure to vaccinate vets and other animal healthcare workers would place them and their human clients at increased risk of contracting Covid-19, as well as having a deleterious effect on food security, public health and animal health and welfare, all of which are classified as essential services,” said Sava president, Leon de Bruyn.
The Department of Health was asked for comment on this issue, but no responses have been received. Updates to follow as more information is made available.