By RYAN JARVIS
All Rhodes University staff, students, and visitors will require digital vaccination certificates or vaccination cards upon entering the campus as full face-to-face teaching resumes in 2022.
The Rhodes Council has endorsed a vaccination mandate rule to enable the resumption of face-to-face university teaching, learning and research, said Rhodes senior communications officer Velisile Bukula in an official statement.
A valid and acceptable form of evidence of COVID-19 vaccination with a vaccine that is approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will be a condition for access to the campus in 2022.
Bukula said the decision was based on analysing the law and information drawn from the higher education sector. “Having assessed risks, Rhodes University had a responsibility to ensure that employees and students are protected and that all the necessary precautionary measures are in place,” the statement said.
The vaccination requirement also applies as a condition for registration for all students and staff working on campus, service providers, and visitors.
“A recommendation for an exemption application process and an alternative health status process for those who cannot take the vaccine on medical or other legitimate and justifiable grounds was also approved. The University is considering the team that will evaluate all applications for exemption,” Bukula said.
“Council decided, after balancing the relevant, competing constitutional rights, that the University had a responsibility to take reasonable steps to ensure the safety, health and well-being of all who access and come into contact with members of the University.
“The vaccination mandate rule provides for the consideration of special exemptions in appropriate circumstances. Where such applications are successful, the University will consider steps to mitigate risk, including the requirement to produce a negative COVID-19 test result every week. This would be at the cost of the student, staff member, visitor or service provider concerned in specific circumstances.
“Council agreed that the purpose of the limitations to access is to reduce onwards transmission, reduce the risk of ongoing mutations, relieve the pressure on the limited health facilities in the city, protect healthcare workers, and mitigate the risk of severe disease, hospitalisation and death.
“The decision took into account competing constitutional rights, including the individual right to bodily integrity, as well as various statutory provisions, towards securing an effective face-to-face teaching and learning and research in a safe environment. The decision also considered a safe working environment.
“Besides the requirement for digital vaccination certificates or vaccination cards upon entering campus, workers will be permitted paid time off to get vaccinated. Sick leave will also be permitted should someone experience side effects associated with the vaccine,” the statement concluded.
Grocott’s Mail conducted a limited online survey of members of the Rhodes community before the Council’s decision, it was clear there was a divide between those for and those against the idea of a compulsory vaccine.
Most students surveyed were in support of a vaccination mandate and felt the vaccine was safe and effective. They felt that mandatory mass vaccination was vital if it was to work.
However, some students lacked trust in the vaccine and expressed concern about the possible effects on them in the future.
One student said, “I have had my first dose of the vaccine and am all for the vaccine as it keeps those around me safe, as well as myself. I believe in the research and science behind vaccines and trust that it will help my body fight off Covid-19, like how other older vaccines work”.
One said they were afraid of the vaccine because “it is not a normal type of vaccine but rather an experimental type of gene therapy”.
The current vaccines do not offer complete immunity from the virus or prevent transmission – it helps the body deal with Covid-19. This appears to be at the root of some vaccine hesitancy.
Other students were against the idea of a compulsory vaccine, citing Constitutional rights.