Covid’s unsung heroes are the first to implement mandatory vaccine policy
As the debate about whether vaccination can be made compulsory for some sectors of the economy heats up, one healthcare organisation has done so, saying it has a duty to protect its workers and their patients.
South African NGO Right to Care, whose staff shouldered an enormous burden during the three waves of Covid-19 infections and lent a helping hand with vaccinations, has become one of the first South African workplaces to introduce a mandatory vaccine policy.
All Right to Care staff, consultants, contractors and locums must receive a Covid-19 vaccine within six months of becoming eligible to receive a vaccine. The organisation, which employs about 4,500 people, aims for 97% vaccination coverage, allowing for medical and religious objections.
The move comes as the Department of Health launched the test phase of its digital vaccine passport system and the debate about whether vaccination should be made mandatory for certain sectors heats up.
Mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers has been implemented in a number of states in the United States.
Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla has previously said that he doubted there would be a blanket policy for compulsory vaccination of all adults but added that he was also supportive of the idea that certain sectors be compelled to implement mandatory vaccination.
But even before the implementation of the policy, 82% of Right to Care staff members had opted to be vaccinated, said Right to Care CEO Professor Ian Sanne, an infectious diseases expert who also sits on the Minister of Health’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on Covid-19.
“Science has proven that the Covid-19 vaccines being used in South Africa are safe and effective in preventing severe illness and death. This is apparent in hospitals where by far the majority of patients are unvaccinated. We are also seeing clear data in the life insurance industry that is paying death claims for the unvaccinated.
“We have a duty to protect our healthcare workers and the patients that they deal with, and we have a duty to protect one another and our families. We need to ensure our ailing economy recovers. Consequently, Right to Care believes that organisations that aim to be good corporate citizens should support a mandatory vaccine policy. I therefore encourage other South African organisations to do the same.
“Our mandatory vaccine policy is an extension of Right to Care’s commitment to protecting and supporting staff that began early last year when the pandemic began. Numerous measures and support systems are in place to protect our people and ensure their safety,” he said.
“To safely achieve herd or population immunity, a substantial proportion of the population needs to be vaccinated, lowering the overall amount of virus able to spread to the whole population.
“Failure to reach herd immunity in communities will have ongoing, far-reaching socioeconomic consequences for our country. In addition, those who are not vaccinated will continue to put pressure on healthcare resources and will ensure further crippling lockdowns during waves,” he added.
Sanne said myths about the Covid-19 vaccine were hampering efforts. He added that it was “nonsense” that the vaccine affected libido, caused death or inserted a microchip in your body.
It was also untrue that the vaccines had not been properly researched because they were developed quickly and that those who have had Covid-19 did not benefit from a vaccine, he said.
Sanne said rumours that the ingredients of the vaccine were being kept a secret and that the vaccine altered recipients’ DNA were also false.
He said 477,000 healthcare workers in South Africa had received the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine as part of the Sisonke study.
“While adverse events can occur following vaccination, it is extremely rare. The risk of contracting severe Covid-19 is much higher. The safety and efficacy data from the six-month follow-up of Sisonke has been submitted for publication by Professor Glenda Gray and colleagues,” Sanne said.
He said, of the 29 deaths that followed vaccinations and were investigated, 26 were found to be incidental: “Three deaths were unclassifiable as there was insufficient information, so we cannot say whether the vaccination caused the deaths or not.”
After having the vaccine, if someone does experience side effects such as fever, fatigue, headache, muscle pain, chills, diarrhoea or pain at the injection site, “it is a good sign”, Sanne said. “It means the body is developing an immune response or vaccine reactogenicity. Covid vaccines work by teaching the immune system how to recognise and fight the virus that causes Covid-19.” DM168
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