Govt departments have been told to push the message ‘the vaccine is your choice’
- Government departments and partners have been told to push the message that Covid-19 vaccination is a matter of choice, not obligation.
- Private companies may be rolling out mandatory vaccination policies, but the government's position is unequivocal, says the health department: "the vaccine is your choice".
- The choice of message is in response to global protests against vaccine mandates, and fears that rhetoric around "forced vaccinations" is increasing in South Africa.
- The South African Human Rights Commission this week said a law demanding vaccination would not necessarily be an infringement of human rights.
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Government departments and external partners involved in Covid-19 efforts have been told to push a blunt message: "the vaccine is your choice".
The South African government's position is that "we want people to get vaccinated because they want to, and because they are able to", the health department said in a briefing note that sets out communications priorities, and that comes right from the top.
"The President has made it clear that no one will be forced by government to get vaccinated," the document tells stakeholders who may be in a position to broadly influence public perception. "Some private companies may make it mandatory for their staff to get vaccinated, and private facilities and sports stadiums may choose only to admit people who have been vaccinated. That is their right, but it is not the position of government."
That choice of message is driven by an increase in foreign protests around "forced vaccination", sometimes linked to various movement and employment restrictions imposed on those who are not inoculated against Covid-19.
South Africa on Tuesday briefly issued digital vaccine passports expected to be used to regulate access to some private venues, before the system – which wasn't supposed to be live – was shut down again.
In February, President Cyril Ramaphosa vowed that "[n]obody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated."
South African companies have explicitly been left to decide their own stance on vaccination. The likes of Discovery, Sanlam, and Curro have announced plans to demand staff be vaccinated, and more businesses are expected to follow their example.
The South African Human Rights Commission this week said the state could – ideally as a last resort – pass a law to compel all eligible people to take a Covid-19 vaccination without necessarily infringing on constitutionally-guaranteed rights.
(Compiled by Phillip de Wet)
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