Time is running out for South Africa to achieve the 70% vaccination rate which would help avoid a fourth wave of Covid infections – and the only way to get there is through a combination of incentives and mandatory vaccination policies, says Business for South Africa (B4SA).
The organisation’s steering committee chair, Martin Kingston, said there were a few issues more topical, important or urgent for South Africa than mandatory vaccination, but vaccination rates were below the desired rate of 300 000+ per day, which would significantly lessen the scale and impact of a fourth wave over December.
“Time is running out. For anyone to be fully vaccinated in time for the festive season, they must get their first Pfizer shot by Wednesday. It is now increasingly unlikely that 70% of adults will have had their first jab before then,” Kingston said.
“In addition, there appears to be growing apathy towards the vaccination: the Gauteng province, for instance, recently reported that a million people had not returned to get their second jab.”
A growing number of organisations such as Sasol, Discovery, Curro, Sanlam, Wits University and Naspers have expressed their interest in making Covid vaccinations mandatory for all staff from 2022, although, according to experts, there is no clear policy on this.
Public health lawyer Safura Abdool Karim said although the government initially said it would not make Covid vaccinations compulsory for its employees for now, it also would not stand in the way of private businesses who want to introduce mandatory vaccinations, or adopt the policy.
“Employers are under legal obligation to create a safe working environment for employees, but we know that Covid has got a powerful justification for limiting individual rights. However, there hasn’t been any clear statement for something like the vaccine,” she said.
Meanwhile, Abdool Karim said with the aim of getting 68% of the adult population fully vaccinated to adequately contain the pandemic, introducing official policies to allow for mandatory Covid vaccination was one effective way of getting more people vaccinated.
She said for the time being, companies were taking a perseverative approach to implementing mandatory vaccine policies and that approach would see employees applying for an exemption from getting vaccinated due to a disability or sincerely held religious belief.
“Or they can do what Wits University did, to say you should be vaccinated, if not you are required to wear an N95 mask and get tested for Covid irrespective of your symptoms and produce a negative test in order to go to class.”
However, Kingston said a combination of mandatory vaccination policies, as well as incentives, were going to be necessary alongside the demand generation communications and mobilisation campaign, to get as many people as possible vaccinated.
In August Sasol confirmed it would cover costs of Covid antigen tests for staff who choose not to be vaccinated, as an alternative for those who will be participating in its annual maintenance shutdown activities on-site at its Secunda, Mpumalanga, plant.
“These are employees who prefer not to be vaccinated as part of the company’s preventative Covid workplace safety protocols, or who wish to be vaccinated but are unable to do so in time due to reasons beyond the employee’s reasonable control,” said Sasol.
“Sasol’s assistance in this regard is limited to the cost of an antigen test administered by a Sasol approved testing laboratory.”
Countries such as Italy, US, Australia, France and Greece, also stipulated that a slowdown in vaccinations have pushed governments to make Covid jabs mandatory for health workers and other high-risk groups.
Meanwhile, Boeing told its US employees in an internal message on Tuesday that, with limited exceptions, they must be vaccinated by 8 December or face termination.
“Compliance with these requirements is a condition of employment, employees who are unable to meet these requirements, and do not have an approved accommodation, by 8 December may be released from the company,” said the Aerospace company.