Several universities require COVID-19 vaccination passes

02 Nov 2021
02 Nov 2021

South Africa’s 26-member vice-chancellors body, Universities South Africa (USAf), has emphatically declared that vaccination is a must.

According to USAf, the best scientific evidence has found that fully vaccinated individuals are better protected against SARS-CoV-2 infections, in particular against severe illness, hospitalisation, and death.

USAf has urged university leaders to advise their governing councils that vaccinations are the most effective way to maximise the safety of students and staff who are on campus.

The USAf statement follows developments at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), where, earlier in October, the secretary-general of the Student Representative Council, Nhlonipho Nxumalo, criticised a plan by the university executive to make vaccinations mandatory on campus.

Nxumalo said on national television at the time that the student body was not opposed to vaccinations.

But it was against the university’s proposal that staff and students who chose not to be vaccinated would be required to test weekly at their own cost, citing the constitutional right of freedom of choice.

Wits said staff and students, including applicants for study or employment, and visitors and service providers must be vaccinated before entering the campus.

Mandatory vaccinations

Professor Lynn Morris, the deputy vice-chancellor: research and innovation at Wits, said the vaccination policy did not infringe on the constitutional rights of the university community, as it accommodates those who choose not to be vaccinated.

But, to ensure that unvaccinated persons are not infectious, they would have to undergo weekly tests before accessing campuses.

“Wits is looking into various options to cover the costs of these weekly tests for at least the first few months, or providing transport to nearby testing sites that test for free,” adds Morris, a leading virologist and immunologist.

“I must emphasise that Wits makes decisions based on the best scientific evidence and, right now, getting everyone vaccinated as soon as possible is in the best interests.

“Vaccinations in South Africa are free, and we are encouraging all eligible persons to get vaccinated.”

Nxumalo said that, while nearby hospitals offered free testing, students, who receive R1,500 per month from the National Student Financial Aid Scheme, would not be able to afford transport costs.

“Public hospitals are always full. So we are rejecting that [to test free of charge at hospitals]. According to section 12 of the constitution, we are allowed to make our own decisions about our bodies, and we are allowed to have freedom of choice,” she said.

Wits students and staff who choose not to be vaccinated on constitutional grounds will be required to: undertake daily health screenings prior to being allowed entry to campus; buy and always wear a mask and undertake weekly testing.

These staff would not be allowed into common areas and may not refuse to return to work if they are not vaccinated.

What are institutions doing?

University of Cape Town Vice-Chancellor Professor Mamokgethi Phakeng said the executive team was supportive of a policy requiring mandatory vaccinations for staff and students.

This was followed by a statement from Babalwa Ngonyama, the chairperson of council: “Council, having debated the issue and taking into consideration a range of views on the matter, and having applied its collective mind, resolved to approve on an in-principle basis a proposal requiring that, with effect from 1 January 2022, all staff (as a condition of being able to perform their duties) and students (as a condition of registration) provide proof of having been vaccinated against COVID-19.”

The Rhodes University council also approved a senate recommendation for mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations, meaning that staff and students will be required to produce proof of vaccination to access the campus from next year.

Gasant Abarder, the manager of media, marketing and communications at the University of the Western Cape (UWC), said UWC’s vaccination programme was voluntary.

In a statement, Normah Zondo, the executive director of corporate relations at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, said the institution expects staff and students to get vaccinated voluntarily based on their knowledge of the importance of mitigating the spread and protection from the deadly virus.

Herman Esterhuizen, the manager of media liaison at the University of Johannesburg (UJ), said: “Central to the discussion is balancing health priorities, also considering the moral and legal rights of individuals. UJ’s management has concluded that mandating vaccinations was a vital aspect to consider for the university requirements to protect staff, students, visitors, and other possible stakeholders.”