Health care workers (HCWs) should also start demonstrating “like the anti-vaxxers” but in support of COVID-19 vaccinations, noted bioethics academic, Prof Ames Dhai (above), suggested in a webinar hosted by Clinix Health Group and Health IQ last night.

Prof Dhai, former director of the Steve Biko Centre for Bioethics at Wits University and now on the MRC Ethics Committee and co-chair of Wits Human Research Ethics Committee (Medical), said when stressing the importance of positive messaging that the anti-vaxxers were doing “really well” in the way they actually promote their messaging.

“I think we as healthcare workers should start putting out positive messages as well and maybe we should start demonstrating in support of COVID 19 vaccinations,” she added.

“There are so many demonstrations against the vaccinations. Maybe as health care workers we should demonstrate in support of the vaccine, obviously ensuring social distancing etc. as it is important to support vaccine, vaccine certificates and incentives.”

During the Q&A session a delegate made the statement that health care professionals had allowed the politicians to take over the fight against COVID 19 and that “there is complete silence from us as health professions as to how vaccines work”.

Responding, Dr Dhai said: “Would like to challenge the doctor who said this and say, if he made a statement like that, I want to know as a health care professional, how much he has done towards the prevention of the politicisation of COVID 19 vaccine and how much have health care workers done as a collective?

“One of the problems I see with health care workers specifically in the COVID-19 context with the vaccine issue,” Prof Dhai continued, “is that there are too many armchair situations where comments are made and criticism is leveled without looking at it  objectively. All of us in health care have a responsibility and need to contribute to the situation where we prevent the politicisation. So I think that question could be asked of us individually.”

In line with her presentation topic, Prof Dhai had earlier posed the question: can COVID vaccines be mandatory in South Africa? “The short answer is ‘yes’,” she said,” and here’s how..

“1. COVID-19 became a notifiable condition in 2020 –meaning it poses a considerable public health risk. As such a healthcare provider can administer a vaccine even if a person refuses to accept it. But a court still has to make the final decision.

“2. South Africa declared a state of disaster in March 2020 as part of its COVID response. Under these regulations, a person can potentially be compelled to be vaccinated – but it would still need a court order.”

She also took the opportunity to show what doctors themselves felt about mandatory vaccination and vaccination certificates in a poll conducted by the SA Medical Association Human Rights and Law Committee in a webinar on the topic last week. The attendees were asked to share their view in the poll at the end of the webinar, the results of which were:

·         89% supported mandatory vaccinations for healthcare workers(assuming the correct checks and balances and appeals processes are in place)

·         80% felt that people other than healthcare workers should also be compelled to take the vaccine

·         87% agreed that vaccine certificates should be produced to enter certain venues

·         67% felt that patients requiring non-urgent care be required to produce vaccine certificates to access health facilities.