Lobby for mandatory vaccination gaining impetus
Blantyre – As itincreasingly becomes apparent that most African countries will not meet the World Health Organisation target of vaccinating at least 40 percent of their populaces against COVID-19, there is a growing push for de facto and de jure mandatory inoculation.
While most jurisdictions are indirectly making it mandatory to be vaccinated by denying certain services and public access to those yet to be inoculated, in SADC member state Malawi, the government is engaged in consultations to force people to get the jabs.
According to Our World in Data, Malawi had by the start of December 2021 vaccinated 3.2 percent of its population.
This is far short of the WHO target, and even further away from the herd immunity threshold of 60 percent. It is also far below the Southern African Development Community average of 21.3 percent of the population.
A combination of low access to doses by African countries, attributed to hoarding of jabs by wealthy nations, and vaccine hesitancy by people who do not fully understand how the drugs work, has resulted in low inoculation levels.
In the fourth wave, evidence from across the world shows hospital admissions due to the new coronavirus are being dominated by unvaccinated people.
It is such facts that are prodding countries like Malawi to explore mandatory vaccination.
In South Africa, the African country most affected by COVID-19, President Cyril Ramaphosa was this week understood to be consulting experts on whether or not – and how – to undertake mandatory vaccination as a fourth wave of the pandemic sweeps across the world.
And in Zimbabwe, the government has essentially told civil servants that they cannot enter their workplaces without providing proof of vaccination. Private companies are also increasingly doing the same; and the general public cannot dine in restaurants or drink in bars if they are not inoculated.
Responding to recommendations made by the Centre for Social Research at the University of Malawi for the government to introduce mandatory COVID-19, the country’s Ministry of Health and Attorney General said they were consulting on the matter.
Officials this week said they wanted a sound legal position on how to implement the proposal without infringing on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Malawi’s Constitution.
Traditional chiefs, earlier in the year, also asked the government to make vaccination compulsory.
Naturally, not everyone is pleased with these recommendations.
Mr Maziko Matemba of Health and Rights Education Programme Malawi said the government should make use of health surveillance assistants (HSAs) to improve knowledge of vaccines and encourage vaccination.
“Most local people trust HSAs because they live with them in their respective communities,” he said.
To this, Mr Raphael Ndalama of Zomba District added: “People want to get the jab but have trouble accessing it as they have to travel long distances to get to health facilities.”
The Centre for Democracy and Economic Development Initiatives (CDEDI) has also cautioned the government to “tread carefully in its bid to roll out the mandatory COVID-19 vaccination campaign at a time when Malawians are in need of an economic recovery plan, which is complete with measures to cushion marginalised and vulnerable people in our society”.
“CDEDI is urging government to take a human rights approach when thinking about mandatory COVID-19 vaccination,” said the organisation’s executive director Mr Sylvester Namiwa.
Elsewhere in the SADC region, South Africa is also understood to be exploring the possibility of mandatory vaccination.
According to Our World in Data, the country had, as of the start of the month, vaccinated just over 25.2 percent of its population.
While figure is higher than most Southern African countries, that is cold comfort for a country hardest hit by the pandemic with more than 3.05 million cumulative cases and over 90,000 deaths to date.
President Ramaphosa recently indicated he was reluctant to introduce another hard lockdown because of the economic impact of such a decision, and this left few options – one of which was mandatory vaccination.
“We realise that the introduction of such measures is a difficult and complex issue, but if we do not address this seriously and as a matter of urgency, we will continue to be vulnerable to new variants and will continue to suffer new waves of infection,” he said.
The chairperson of Business for South Africa, Mr Martin Kingston, appeared to back compulsory inoculation.
“We need to rapidly move to a situation where only vaccinated individuals should be allowed to travel in buses, taxis and aeroplanes, or to eat and drink in indoor establishments such as restaurants and taverns.”
The country’s largest labour body, Cosatu, weighed in saying: “Any restrictions going forward must be imposed on those who fail to vaccinate.”
But the Public Servants Association said “many people are still afraid on the effects of the vaccine, and making vaccination mandatory will add to this anxiety”.
Across the border in Zimbabwe, the country this week reported a surge in infections, with Tuesday’s confirmation of 4.031 new cases marking the highest ever daily total since the pandemic broke out in 2020. The previous daily record was 3,110, which was recorded at the peak of the third wave.
The government is setting up vaccination sites at bus termini as a prelude to barring non-inoculated people from using public transport.
Civil servants had been told that they would not be allowed to enter workplaces if they were not vaccinated by October 15, in addition to facing pay cuts because of their non-attendance to their posts.
Labour, Public Service and Social Welfare Minister Paul Mavima recently said the directive would be implemented “as per the letter of the law in respect of those who have deliberately avoided vaccination”.
“Those who have not been vaccinated due to factors that are not deliberate on their part will have until 31 December 2021 to be vaccinated,” said.
Labour representatives have responded by asking the courts to block mandatory vaccination.
But Vice-President Dr Constantino Chiwenga, who is also the Health Minister, has responded saying: “While people have their individual rights and freedoms, those rights can be limited in the interest of public health such as the COVID-19 pandemic, which is ravaging the world. A person can say he or she has individual rights and freedoms – it’s your right – but you don’t need to go out there and expose other people to COVID-19 because you are not vaccinated.
“Those who are suing government have their mission to set an agenda to the outside world to believe there is confusion in Zimbabwe. No, we are trying to protect the general public. We won’t allow that.”
SADC Vaccination Statistics
|Doses Administered||Fully Vaccinated||% of Population Vaccinated|
|Angola||10 million||3.28 million||10%|
|Mozambique||10.8 million||4.11 million||13.2%|
|South Africa||26.3 million||14.9 million||25.2%|
|Zimbabwe||6.76 million||2.88 million||19.4%|
Source: Our World in Data (December 1, 2020)