Medical and dental deans call for compulsory vaccination of health science students
The SA Committee of Medical Deans (Sacomd) and the SA Committee of Dental Deans (Sacodd) have called for the compulsory vaccination of all health science students and the general healthcare workforce against Covid-19.
The committees, which represent higher education institutions that educate SA’s health workforce, said the move would “advance the efforts to curtail the spread of the coronavirus among our communities and limit the impact it may have of significant disease”.
“The further critical protection vaccination will afford is for dental healthcare workers and students exposed to high-level aerosol-generating procedures.
“Historically healthcare workers have been required as students to be vaccinated against the hepatitis B virus, albeit primarily for individual benefit in that case,” said Prof Tiaan de Jager, Sacomd chair and dean of the University of Pretoria’s health sciences faculty.
“The case for Covid-19 immunisation transcends individual benefit and has major benefits for the good of the broader health facility community, including fellow colleagues and patients whose lives are entrusted to the care of the healthcare worker.
“As such, it is a moral imperative for healthcare workers to submit to vaccination against Covid-19, and for the best schedule of vaccine to be used to maximise protection not only against severe Covid-19, but also that which has the greatest likely impact in protecting against infection and mild to moderate Covid-19,” said de Jager.
The committees have also recommended that healthcare workers who have already received a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine get a booster dose.
“The single-dose J&J vaccine among South African healthcare workers has been reported to reduce risk of hospitalisation and death by 74% and 97%, respectively.
“However, data is unavailable of the J&J vaccine’s effectiveness against infection and mild Covid-19. Its efficacy is expected to be substantially lower than two doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which induces substantially higher concentrations of neutralising antibody than a single dose of J&J,” said de Jager.
“A booster dose of J&J six months after vaccination has been shown to increase antibody levels ninefold.
“Alternatively, a heterologous prime boost approach with a boost of a messenger RNA vaccine — for which evidence for the AstraZeneca vaccine (which induces similar antibody responses even after a single dose compared with the J&J vaccine) followed by a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine exists — could be considered.”