The ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19 is discussing the possibility of mandatory Covid-19 vaccines for specific groups of people, the Sunday Times reports.

Scientists and health activists told the paper that compulsory vaccination for healthcare workers and other professions who spend time indoors with other people may be necessary.

This would allow the country to reopen and operate in a way as close to possible as the pre-Covid-19 era, said Wits University vaccinology expert professor Shabir Madhi.

“In these settings, if people choose not to be vaccinated, they should be compelled to undergo testing every three or four days at their own expense,” he said.

While Covid-19 vaccines don’t offer full protection against Covid-19, Madhi said that the vaccines would be a lot more impactful at a population level if more people were vaccinated.

This was echoed by professor Keymanthri Moodley, director of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law at Stellenbosch University, who said that all high-risk environments, occupations and communal activities should have a mandatory vaccine policy.

This is for the common good and in the public interest, she said.

“(These workers have a) professional and ethical obligation to prevent harm to those under their care as well as to their colleagues. Other public-facing essential workers have a similar obligation.”

However, spokesperson for the Department of Health, Popo Maja told the Sunday Times that compulsory vaccination is not on the table for discussion.

Opened to all adults

On Friday (20 August), the government opened Covid-19 vaccines to all adults 18 years older as it looks to significantly boost its vaccination numbers.

In recent weeks, the country’s vaccine problem has switched from a supply to a demand issue, and health officials have raised concerns around vaccine hesitancy.

A survey last month found that about 54% of nationals say they are unlikely to get a Covid-19 vaccine and almost half say they believe prayer provides more protection than the shots.

One issue of concern in South Africa is a particular reluctance to be vaccinated among men, said Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general in the department of health.

“This is not good,” Crisp said. “It means that men are going to end up very sick and in hospital and we don’t want that to happen just prior to Christmas.”

Health minister, Dr Joe Phaahla warned that there is still a very long road ahead as the number of new infections continues to spike.

On Saturday South Africa reported 13,262 new Covid-19 cases, taking the total reported cases in the country to 2,680,225. A further 268 deaths were reported, bringing the total cumulative deaths to 79,251.

A total of 10,499,974 Covid-19 vaccines have been administered to date.

“The reality is that this battle is not yet over. The third wave remains stubbornly in our midst,” the minister said.

He said the number of new cases in the Western Cape has been increasing, with the Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and the Northern Cape lagging behind.

“The worrying trend is that overall in the last seven days, there has been an 18.2% increase in new infections over that seven-day period compared to the previous seven days.

“So, while the curve has started to show a downward trend, it is now picking up again, driven largely by the Western Cape, KZN, and the Eastern Cape. But also the Northern Cape as I’ve said which has never really gone down from the second wave and just went straight into the third wave.”

“These are people who have fully vaccinated, which is 12% of the adult population, but remembering that when we talk about other population, we mean 18 years and above,” the minister said, adding that those aged between 18 and 34 are still yet to come into a vaccination category.

Phaahla said there is still a long way to go to reach 70% of the adult population, as those who received at least one jab of lifesaving vaccine is around 20%.

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