Vaccinate — or say goodbye to your studies

Universities say they cannot cater to students without everyone being protected, though they will offer exemptions on medical or religious grounds

05 December 2021 - 00:00
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It's no game ... the Students' Representative Council at Wits has rejected the university's mandatory vaccination policy.
It's no game ... the Students' Representative Council at Wits has rejected the university's mandatory vaccination policy.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

Students who fail to get vaccinated against Covid-19 and fail to get an exemption may not be able to register for courses and could even be deregistered

Those are among the measures several universities are adopting as they impose mandatory vaccination for staff and students from next year.

The institutions’ tough stance comes as statistics from Higher Health, a unit within the department of higher education, indicates that only to 500,000 of the 2-million students in the higher education sector are either partially or fully vaccinated.

The SA Union of Students (SAUS) and Nehawu have rejected mandatory vaccination. .

Saus president Yandisa Ndzoyiya said the union will “actively engage” institutions to do away with the policy, but urged students to get vaccinated.

“We encourage all students to vaccinate and we want to encourage all institutions to run vaccine campaigns and to introduce incentives,” Ndzoyiya said.

Nehawu spokesperson Lwazi Nkolonzi said they supported the vaccination programme, but not at the expense of people’s constitutional rights.

“Universities are not exempt from respecting the constitution and as such cannot force our members and workers to vaccinate,” Nkolonzi said.

Staff and students who are not vaccinated or are unable to produce a negative test result less than a week old will not be allowed into the University of the Free State from February. The universities of Rhodes, Johannesburg (UJ), Wits and the Western Cape have announced mandatory vaccinations for staff and students.

University of the Free State students who refuse to vaccinate on religious grounds must provide a “plausible” motivation from a religious leader.

 Students at Wits,  whose applications for exemption from vaccination is denied, may, in some cases, “need to put their studies on hold until the pandemic subsides”.

No students will be allowed to register at Rhodes University without either a verified vaccination card or an approved exemption certificate.

The councils of at least eight of the country’s 26 universities have approved vaccination policies that make it compulsory for staff and students to get vaccinated before being allowed onto campus.

Wits spokesperson Shirona Patel said the vaccination of employees and students “will enable optimal access, including the delivery of teaching and learning”.

“New and returning students who apply to Wits and who choose not to vaccinate for medical or other reasons, can apply for reasonable accommodation from their respective faculty,” Patel said. “If the faculty feels that they cannot be accommodated, then they can appeal to the mandatory vaccination appeals committee.”

If those students still couldn’t be accommodated, they may not be allowed to register or may even be deregistered.

University of Johannesburg spokesperson Herman Esterhuizen said students not fully vaccinated would  be registered conditionally until they meet the vaccination conditions.

He said unvaccinated students will also be conditionally registered and given until March 30 to get fully vaccinated.

“If the exemption request is not approved, the student’s conditional registration will be cancelled.”

Professor Tawana Kupe, the vice-chancellor of the University of Pretoria, recently told staff and students that more than 70% of about 10,000 students who participated in a survey said they were either partially or fully vaccinated.

Unvaccinated people faced being excluded from sporting activities, social events and visiting friends in residence, he said.

Stellenbosch University spokesperson Martin Viljoen said they intended to publish a rule requiring students to provide proof of vaccination as a condition to register or to remain registered.

Elijah Moholola, a spokesperson for the University of Cape Town, said its council had approved a proposal requiring staff and students to produce proof of vaccination from January.

Nelson Mandela University spokesperson Zandile Mbabela said no decision has been taken on mandatory vaccinations, while North West University spokesperson Louis Jacobs said vaccination wasn’t mandatory for staff.

Mangosuthu University of Technology spokesperson Bheki Hlophe said a task team has been appointed to develop a vaccination policy.

The Tshwane University of Technology, where the new Omicron variant of Covid-19 was reportedly first detected after 70 students tested positive, said they were drafting a vaccination policy.

The Durban University of Technology is also drafting a policy, while the University of SA and Zululand University don’t have vaccination policies.

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