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Saving lives vs constitutional challenges - What South Africans think about mandatory Covid-19 vaccines

Johannesburg - It’s a debate that has raged on for months.

Should Covid 19 vaccines be mandatory in South Africa?

With the government exploring the possibility of mandatory vaccines and certificates (passports) for everyone in the country, the Saturday Star chatted to several South Africans to find out where they stand on the issue.

Rushil Vallabh – Johannesburg

The more people that are vaccinated, the better it is for getting the world/country on the path to normality, without further lockdowns and restrictions.

Whether government should make it mandatory is debatable. On the one hand, people should be able to decide what they want to do with their own bodies. On the other hand, the anti-vax movement does pose a risk to society in general.

The vaccine passport shouldn't at all be controversial. I've travelled with my yellow fever passport for years, and no one questioned it. The vaccine passport is a good idea. It allows people to make informed decisions on how to engage with others.

Brett Rogers – Cape Town:

This is an extremely tricky question, and I don’t think there is a correct answer. Mandatory "anything" that puts limits on our ability to "be" is a dangerous slope towards fascism, and I don’t trust our leaders to use this mandate honestly.

However, I think that it makes sense to insist that for a time, at least, we put measures in place to ensure the safety and security of all. Right now, the anti-vax movement is a f*****g insane collection of "WhatsApp aunties and uncles" who have read some nonsense from their friend at the salon or something. The statistics don’t lie, vaccines help, and it’s our duty to each other to be vaccinated. I'm concerned about the vaccine, but to ignore the need for us all to cross this global hurdle, means we need to collectively make smart decisions.

Yes, we need to have a vaccine passport, but it needs to have stringent time-lines and guidelines as to when it ends. I like what some places/clubs have done: Show us your vaccine proof or pay for a test right now (which you pay for, of course), and then you can enter. I think at a micro level that that’s the right thing, but on a countrywide scale, the passport is necessary.

A doctor at Tygerberg Hospital fills the syringe with the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. | Phando Jikelo African News Agency (ANA)

Bushra Hassim – Pretoria

Everyone should have a choice on whether they want to take the vaccine or not. There are plenty of people that use alternate healing and live a lifestyle that doesn’t make use of vaccinations. They have treatment and believe in self-immunisation. Imposing a vaccine on people is taking away the freedom of choice and imposing a lifestyle that may be contradictory to some.

It’s noted that the vaccine stops the variant, but at the same time, this isn’t just a virus problem. It’s a lifestyle problem. The more people work on their health and well-being, the stronger they will be to overcome viruses. Imposing a vaccine on people who have dedicated years to alternate health and lifestyles is not in line with human rights.

This file illustration photo taken shows vials with Covid-19 Vaccine stickers attached and syringes with the logo of US pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson. (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS / AFP)

Rob Hutchinson – Cape Town

Mandatory vaccines and certificates (passports) are a horrific idea for several reasons: Around 9.8 million South Africans are currently considered fully vaccinated, figures are far too low to consider segregation and discriminating against the unvaccinated.

The definition of “fully vaccinated” is wholly unclear as an individual’s vaccination status expires over time. Fully vaccinated today does not mean fully vaccinated six months from now.

Currently, fully vaccinated means two doses administered within 14 days. However, as we’ve witnessed in other countries, fully vaccinated means two shots plus a booster every 3/6/12 months. In other words, the certificate is irrelevant as the individual’s status expires when the vax is no longer deemed effective.

Our government has thus far struggled to roll out vaccines to only 15% of the population over the past year, and many of those early adopters are no longer considered fully vaccinated. I’m afraid our government will never be able to maintain a fully vaccinated status for any individual, as the goalposts continually shift.

Kuli Roberts – Johannesburg:

First, it was not mandatory. Now, they are on about a mandatory vaccine passport. It smells like the Nats and Hitler, and we hope this is God's plan. Death is not a fear, but confusion is annoying. But if it’s to save lives, then let's get on with it. I will put it near my yellow fever card. Death is inevitable.

Cathryn Howroyd – Johannesburg

I think it’s a good idea, and I am all for it. It will open up the country sooner and aid in medical facilities relief.

File Photo: Vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine against the novel coronavirus. (Photo by Christof STACHE / AFP)

Anonymous Doctor – Johannesburg

I think it's an absolute invasion of rights and the imposition of the Nuremberg code. It completely frustrates me that we live in a country where we're believed to think it’s democratic when actually our rights are being infringed. To be forced to put something into your healthy body, when the statistics of death are less than the yearly flu, and the statistics of adverse effects of this "vaccine" are causing more deaths, is ridiculous. The world needs to catch a wake-up.

Sarah M – Cape Town

As a child adopted due to a mother who had polio, I am very pro-vax. I am in full support of mandatory vaccination. When I started school, I remember government clinics coming around, setting up a vaccination centre in the school hall where we all queued in order to get our booster shots.

I’m not against people who are cautious or hesitant about getting the vaccine, but to be out here telling people to not get vaccinated and that the science isn’t what it is? Name every ingredient in your double brandy and Coke lite. Do you drink water? You know there’s fluoride in there, right? Do you want to know what fluoride is or does? Do your own research, and make sure you do the fluoride research while queuing to get vaccinated.

A health official draws a dose of the AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine manufactured by the Serum Institute of India. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

Sinenhlanhla Mnguni – Johannesburg

It’s, in principle, a good idea, but it is going to, despite its nobility, invite a lot of constitutional challenges from those who, on various grounds, do not want to take the vaccine.

It will be interesting to see whether, if imposed, making vaccination compulsory, with regards to Covid-19, will be able to withstand constitutional scrutiny and the limitation of rights clause under section 36 of the Constitution.

We’ve seen a significant amount of people raise their objections to being vaccinated. This may raise the argument of the needs of the many vs the needs of the few.

One has to also consider the fact that there are already certain vaccines you have to get as a child to be allowed to go to school. Many may ask why this vaccine should be any different? Or the criteria certain countries employ, such as having to have the yellow fever vaccine to be allowed entry. The limitation of peoples’ rights in this instance may be justifiable.

Government may leave the door open for one to choose to not get vaccinated, but this would be accompanied by consequences such as multiple and costly testing for those who do not vaccinate. This in itself may not sit well with those who choose not to vaccinate. However, a line has to be drawn somewhere.

With rights come responsibilities to your neighbours. One’s right to not get vaccinated should not infringe on another’s right to not be put at risk of getting sick.

At present, almost every country seems to be treading very carefully around this issue. That could also be that they’ve mostly adopted the route of trying to encourage citizens instead of being prescriptive, especially given the hesitancy around vaccination. At present, the numbers in SA, for example, show that a high percentage of South Africans are still reluctant to take the vaccine.

Xavier Flemmert – Cape Town

I truly believe getting the vaccine is a choice for people to make, and nobody should be forced to take it. However, if you want to travel to foreign countries which only allows vaccinated people to cross their borders, then you have to abide by their laws.

If your place of work requires you to be vaccinated, then you have to do what you have to, to keep your employment or be hassled by getting tested every week, which can be stressful. I agree with having vaccine certificates, which should be electronic like a QR Code on your mobile phone because carrying a booklet around in your pocket can be a schlep.

Deshan Chetty – Kimberley

I don't like the government forcing people to put things in their bodies. But it's special circumstances, and we all want this nightmare to end and to get back to normal. So I'm not against mandatory vaccines at this point. The vaccine has been proven to be effective, and there are too many people refusing to go.

An airport security employee wears a protective mask outside a passport check point as a preventive measure against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) .

Danya Ming Sun – Johannesburg

I think it is a good idea if the government considers mandatory vaccines and certificates for everyone, just because that is the only way we are going to be safe, is if the majority of people get vaccinated. That is the only way we’ll be able to eliminate it and to also stop people who are unvaccinated from coming into our country, which just means there is less risk of a different variant coming in.

Rushka Puckreesamy – Cape Town

I’m happy with the government having vaccination passports. I see that I’ve been recently sent a link for a certificate, and you know, for flying and crossing borders. I definitely think it should be controlled. People coming into the country should have a vaccine passport, and for those leaving South Africa and returning, they must also get that passport, whether it be from the country they were in or coming back here. Yes for passports.

The Saturday Star