Universities mulling vaccine mandate for students and staff

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University vaccine mandate picture for illustration. PHOTO: LENNART PREISS / AFP

South African universities are planning to compel students and staff to get vaccinated, in a bid to bring back productivity levels to the higher education sector.

The Citizen reports, the University of the Free State (UFS) held a panel discussion on Tuesday on how universities are tackling vaccine hesitancy and envisioning the future of higher education.

Panelists concurred that vaccine mandates at universities would be beneficial on multiple fronts, because Covid-19 jabs have been scientifically proven to lower the risk of serious illness, hospitalisation, and death.

This would open up the possibility of full-time on-campus learning or hybrid learning, which would relieve the immense pressure felt by staff and students who currently handle courses online with little human contact, and the impact this has had on learning.

South African universities at large are discussing the benefits of mandatory vaccination, according to Professor Glenda Grey, President and CEO: South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), speaking during the webinar.

The Stellenbosch University (SU) Council has moved to urgently develop a Covid-19 vaccine mandate, to ramp up vaccination coverage among students and staff. This follows the council’s third meeting this year in which the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic was discussed.

At the same time, SU Rector and Vice-Chancellor Prof Wim De Villiers confirmed the university is exploring the possibility of mandatory vaccinations. De Villiers says the institution will be guided by the experience of other institutions and organisations in South Africa and worldwide.

To this end, SU’s Institutional Committee for Business Continuity (ICBC) appointed a task team last month to conduct the risk assessment required in terms of a health and safety direction, which was promulgated in June.

SU has been been conducting an awareness drive since the rollout of the national vaccination programme in February this year, and also established its own vaccination site which serves SU staff and students as well as the broader public.

According to SU Chief Operating Officer Professor Stan du Plessis, 518 staff members, 2 236 students and 1 472 members of the community had received their jabs there since 10 August, while others also continue to make use of vaccination facilities elsewhere.

“The SU Council mandates management to work towards the urgent development of a rule on vaccination for students and staff for the 2022 academic year. Staff and students are reassured that due process will be followed in terms of consultation and risk management,” reads the motion adopted by the SU council.

“A vaccine rule will determine the extent to which staff and students can work and study at the University depending on their vaccination status. It will describe the expectation, as well as the criteria for exceptions,” says Du Plessis.

The Citizen/Simnikiweh Hlatshaneni