By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
South Africa’s vaccination efforts will be a key factor in limiting a potential fourth wave of Covid-19 infections at the end of 2021, says president Cyril Ramaphosa.
Responding in an oral Q&A in parliament on Friday (3 September), the president said that getting vaccinated was key to restarting normal activities in the country.
"Getting vaccinated is not only a personal choice about protecting yourself from infection. It is also about protecting others, including your family, friends and co-workers, and allowing the whole of society to return to normal activity more quickly.
"If we can vaccinate a large enough proportion of our population – particularly the adult population – by December, we can avoid another devastating wave of infections and restrictions on the economy, "he said.
Ramaphosa said that those who refuse to be vaccinated increase the risks for others – not only of a further resurgence of infections but of prolonged economic hardship and lack of recovery.
"We, therefore, all have a responsibility to encourage all South Africans over the age of 18 to go to their nearest vaccination site today to protect themselves, to protect others and to help all of us get our economy back on track.
"Above all, vaccines are free in our country, they are safe, and they are effective." Despite the push for vaccinations, Ramaphosa said that no one should be forced to be vaccinated.
In June, the government updated the country’s occupational health and safety laws to allow for mandatory vaccinations at workplaces.
The directions provide guidelines for employers that intend to make vaccination mandatory, Ramaphosa said.
"Such employers need to determine the category of employees to be vaccinated, taking into account the vulnerability of employees owing to age or any comorbidities they may have, as well as the risks posed as a result of the role of the employee.
"The implementation of any mandatory vaccination policies must be based on mutual respect, which achieves a balance between public health imperatives, the constitutional rights of employees, and the efficient operation of the employers’ business."
Ramaphosa said that the implementation of any mandatory vaccination policies must be based on mutual respect, which achieves a balance between public health imperatives, the constitutional rights of employees, and the efficient operation of the employers’ business.
Employees may refuse vaccination on medical or constitutional grounds, he said.
"In such instances, the employer should counsel the employee and, if requested, allow them to seek guidance from a health and safety representative, worker representative or trade union official, as well as a health practitioner.
"If necessary, steps should be taken to reasonably accommodate the employee in a position that does not require the employee to be vaccinated. It could include workers continuing to work from home without contact with other employees, customers or suppliers."