Medical and dental deans propose compulsory vaccinations for all health science students. 

The regulatory bodies which oversee medical and dental schools across South African universities have recommended that covid-19 vaccines be mandatory for all health science students as of Tuesday, September 7,2021. 

The South African Committee of Medical Deans (SACOMD) and the South African Committee of Dental Deans (SACODD) argued that the vaccine is needed to decrease the spread of the virus.  

However, the plan has been met with mixed reactions from both students and legal professionals. 

Wits Medical Students’ Council (MSC) says it acknowledged the importance of taking the vaccine. 

“As part of patient facing healthcare workers, it is our responsibility to not only protect ourselves but at-risk populations we serve during our clinical training.’’ 

However, the student group says it does not agree with the rushed approach to mandatory vaccination, and suggests “collaboration with religious groups, student clubs, societies and organisations before resorting to vaccine mandates.” 

Professor Tiaan De Jager, SACOMD chair and dean of the faculty of health sciences at the University of Pretoria, told Newzroom Afrika on Wednesday, September 8, “The concept of vaccinations is not new, we all had the polio vaccine when we were small.”  

“There is no reason to be concerned. These vaccines have been tested. We have seen the statistics, the data and the impact of the vaccinations,” he said. 

Addressing the possible legal issues of mandatory vaccination, public health lawyer and senior researcher at the Wits school of Public Health, Safura Abdool Karim, told Wits Vuvuzela that the constitutional rights of individuals are not unlimited.  

“There are other rights owed to large sections of society such as the right to access to healthcare, which may be compromised when covid-19 patients place a high burden on ICUs and a right to life.” 

Karim argues that the severity of the covid-19 pandemic is a significant public health justification, overriding individual rights. “While forcing people to take a vaccine is not always desirable, it is undoubtedly in line with a human rights approach to the pandemic,” she said. 

Lunga Gadala, third-year medicine student says that he has mixed feelings about the decision.  

“I don’t think they can force people, but I think it is a good initiative.”  

Karim adds that the pace of vaccine roll-out is not fast enough to enforce vaccine mandates in a fair manner.  

“We need to be careful that when we limit access to services, – it is really about incentivising vaccinations, and not a kind of double discrimination against those who have been unable to be vaccinated,” she said. 


FEATURED IMAGE:  A woman receiving her first shot of the Pfizer covid-19 vaccine at Liberty Dischem Braamfontein vaccination site. Photo: Keamogetswe Mosepele