During the Covid-19 pandemic, universities in South Africa were forced to halt operations and closed. Some universities are yet to return to classes in full capacity as many have adopted a mixed approach to learning with online classes being the order of the day.
Some universities have set up vaccination sites in order to make the vaccine more accessible to students and lecturers. This would hopefully lead to students returning to class.
The question around making vaccines mandatory if you want to access an institution’s facilities has started to be discussed by stakeholders. One Covid-19 infection could cause physical classes to stop as Covid-19 protocols require this.
South African Students Congress (SASCO) deputy president Buyile Matiwane says the idea of making Covid-19 vaccines mandatory is a bad idea. He says SASCO supports vaccination but the focus should be on addressing the issue around why people are hesitant to get the vaccine.
Matiwane says it would be unfair if an unvaccinated student were to be barred from entering classes at university on the basis of being unvaccinated.
He said “[there are] benefits to that interactive learning and to bar someone from having access to that would be extremely unfair so we think that students in their nature should be reasonable actors and in them being reasonable we must appeal to them reasonably for them to vaccinate, not make it mandatory and take away the agency that they have to make the choice”.
Matiwane says students will be more likely to get the Covid-19 vaccination appeal to their conciseness and to reason.
He says that there is a general distrust of the government in South Africa which needs to be addressed to encourage people to get behind different initiaves “We need to address that trust deficit and we're not going to do that by by making vaccines mandatory. We need to appeal to our people intellectually, we need to be open and transparent and that's how we're naturally going to get people to go willingly to go and vaccinate”
He says SASCO has not been formally engaged with around the issues of needing proof of vaccination to enter university buildings and facilities.
“I think the discussion hasn't been an open discussion, it hasn’t been a rigorous discussion and I think to make a blanket statement that universities have the right not to admit anyone to their premises is to some extent quite an irresponsible statement to make” concluded Matiwane.