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Tag: Vaccines

Covid Last Resort – Vaccines Becomes Compulsory

The South African Human Rights Commission has clarified its position on whether vaccinations in South Africa could be made mandatory. In a statement today (04 October 2021) the commission noted that the continued slow uptake of the vaccines, coupled with the introduction of vaccination passports, has further fueled the debate on compulsory vaccinations in the country.

The question is whether compelling a person to take the Covid-19 vaccination would violate human rights.

“The South African Human Rights Commission notes that the Constitution clearly protects several rights of individuals, including the right to health, the right to life, the right to freedom of religion, the right to a healthy environment and the right of freedom and security of person, which includes the right of security in and control over one’s body and the right not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without one’s informed consent.”

“While section 7(2) of the Constitution enjoins the state to respect, protect, promote and fulfil the rights in the Bill of Rights, its sub-section (3) provides that the rights in the Bill of Rights are subject to limitations contained in section 36 or other provisions in the Bill of Rights.

“Therefore, the rights of individuals, save for non-derogable rights, such as the rights to life and human dignity, can be limited in terms of section 36 of the Constitution, firstly, when the limitation of these rights is done in terms of a law of general application, that is, if the state passes a law that articulates a general compulsory Covid-19 vaccination regime.

“Secondly, to the extent that the limitation itself is reasonable and justifiable in an open and democratic society based on human dignity, equality and freedom.”

Therefore, it will be constitutionally permissible to require people from age groups that are eligible for vaccination to vaccinate, provided that this is done following the processes stipulated in the Constitution, the Commission explained.

“Given that the pandemic is an existential crisis that affects all human beings and implicates both rights and responsibilities, it is highly likely that a general law mandating vaccination will pass constitutional muster.”

Only as a last resort 

The commission said that it strongly supports Covid-19 vaccinations as its benefits have been shown to clearly and significantly outweigh possible disadvantages.

“In spite of the view it takes on mandatory vaccination, the South African Human Rights Commission first and foremost supports voluntary vaccination and hopes that members of the public will see the greater benefits for themselves, their communities and the country in being vaccinated, and would weigh these benefits against defending their rights, for example, to bodily integrity and perpetuating the suffering of the whole nation,” it said.

The commission further noted that not all people who have not yet been vaccinated are against the vaccinations.

“Many of them are vaccine-hesitant and require clear, understandable information from credible sources to help them decide on whether to vaccinate or not. It also seems that some who want to be vaccinated have not been able to get the vaccination for various reasons, including the lack of required documentation.

“In our view, if the state decides to compel all eligible people in the country to take the Covid-19 vaccination, it should do so as a last resort. The Commission is not convinced at this stage that all efforts have been made, particularly by the state, to educate people on the need for and workings of the vaccines to convince them to vaccinate voluntarily.”

South Africa administered only 52,556 Covid-19 vaccines in the past 24 hours, which is 43,137 more shots compared to a week ago. According to the Department of Health, this means the country has now distributed 17,875,187 vaccines since the start of the rollout program.

South Africa now has 9,075,189 fully vaccinated adults, of which 37,982 people either received the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine or the second dose of the Pfizer jab. The aim is to have in excess of 30 million adults vaccinated by the end of the year, representing approximately 70% of the total population.

“To reach our goal we need to administer an additional 16 million vaccine doses this year, which amounts to around 250,000 first dose vaccinations every single workday of every week until mid-December, President Ramaphosa said.

Gauteng Begins Door to Door Vaccination Strategy

The Department of Health in Gauteng has had to develop more innovative strategies as people in the most populous province in the country have not been showing up at vaccination sites to get their jabs.

Gauteng is trailing behind the more rural provinces such as Limpopo and the Eastern Cape when it comes to vaccinating its citizens.   According to statistics, the Eastern Cape has the highest number of adults vaccinated in the country at 32.84%. Limpopo managed to vaccinate 31.79%, and the Free State has also had high vaccination turnouts with 30.24% of its adult population getting the jab.

Meanwhile, Gauteng has only managed to vaccinate 25% of all adults in the province. The province aims to vaccinate at least 10 million people by December 2021.

Since the pandemic started in 2020,  19 102 people have died in the province. Currently, there are 2 665 hospitalized in the province.  Kwara Kekana, spokesperson for the Gauteng Department of Health says this has led the province to try new ways to persuade people to get the jab.

The department started setting up pop-up sites at taxi ranks, workplaces, and other places where people congregate to bolster vaccination rates.   Kekana says from these events, they realised that hesitancy was brought on by several factors, including widespread fake news, concerns about the side effects of the vaccines, and inadequate information.

Professor Alex van den Heever, a health and social security expert, says it is not easy to determine why Gauteng is not attracting as many people for vaccination as the other provinces.

“I think the Gauteng department of health is not a strong administration. However, it is also the province with the largest population. Hesitancy may explain some of this. But it does take an active process to pull in the numbers. Rather than just setting up and waiting.”

The pop-up sites have been working and Kekana said they were, “… encouraged by the figures”. The department has managed to administer more than a million doses from the end of August to date.

The department is now moving the vaccination drive to people’s doorsteps. They have now started door-to-door campaigns for inoculation. The provincial sports department on Saturday,   will host a vaccination event at Altitude Beach in Fourways, where artists like Prince Kaybee and Lamiez Holworthy will be performing.

Kekana says: “The provincial government has been engaged in a drive to take the vaccines to where people are, and this forms part of those efforts to increase the number of sites, and have more sites in communities apart from the non-clinical sites.”

Gauteng has only administered around four million Covid-19 vaccine doses to approximately three million people.

Third Wave of Covid as Winter Comes Closer

The Gauteng Premier David Makhura warned that a third COVID-19 wave was still a possibility and the vaccine rollout programme had to be done with great urgency, especially with the winter season coming soon. The province has over 401,000 COVID-19 cases and 9,481 people died of the virus in Gauteng alone.

The vaccine rollout programme begun last week with the Johnson and Johnson jabs as part of a research programme among healthcare workers. The aim of the program is to inoculate 10.4 million people this year as part of the country’s plan to immunise at least 67% of the population. According to Makhura 5,000 healthcare workers had already received their jabs in the province.

“The vaccination plan has to be rolled out as a matter of urgency to reach massive numbers of people so we can save more lives.”

The Gauteng premier also announced his four priorities for the new financial year amid the pandemic, which include plans to boost the economy. Gauteng province – which is seen as the economic hub of the country – is deeply concerned that many municipalities deteriorated during the pandemic due to a loss of over R8.75 billion in revenue between April and July last year.

Makhura said that this year had been devastating for the residents and the state but that he believes there is hope.

“We’re beginning to see hope, we’re entering the new vaccine phase. We will bounce back.”

Steve Biko Hospital Refuses to Vaccinate Private Sector Doctors

Doctors employed at private hospitals claims that they were refused COVID-19 vaccines at the Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, despite having appointments. The Steve Biko Hospital is one of two in Gauteng that are administering vaccines to health care workers along with the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Soweto.

The Gauteng province received 16,000 Johnson & Johnson doses intended for health workers. One doctor who works at an emergency unit at a private hospital claims that she had an appointment to be vaccinated and followed all procedures, yet was turned away before even joining the queue.  She said that officials at the hospital attended to people without appointments while refusing to assist those who have followed the prescribed procedures.

The medical practitioner said that she works with seriously ill COVID-19 patients every day but was not even considered to be vaccinated. The Gauteng Health Department responded to the allegations and said an unexpected influx of health workers posed a serious challenge to employees at the hospital.

“The demand for health workers to be vaccinated has been growing which resulted in workers storming the Steve Biko Hospital fearing the vaccine will run out,” said Motalatale Modiba, of the department.

The department has however re-assured health workers in Gauteng that no one will be refused the jab. More than 2,000 health workers have already been vaccinated.

Ramaphosa confirms arrival of vaccines

President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that South Africa will be receiving its first consignment of Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute in India.  The Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine producer.

Writing in his weekly open letter to the people of South Africa, Ramaphosa said that the consignment will signal the start of a mass vaccination campaign that will be the most ambitious and extensive in the country’s history.

“It will reach all parts of the country and will be phased to ensure that those most in need are prioritised. The first vaccines to arrive will be provided to health care workers, who will be targeted in the first phase,” he said.

“The second phase will include essential workers, teachers, the elderly and those with co-morbidities. The third phase will include other adults in the population.”

The president said that a comprehensive rollout strategy and an accompanying logistical framework must be implemented in partnership with the private sector, civil society, traditional leadership, the religious sector and others.

“It is vital that this is a society-wide campaign, in which everyone is involved and no-one is left behind,” he said.

President Ramaphosa has also pledged transparency in government’s dealings with vaccine manufacturers and the various initiatives.

“As we did with the announcement on the Serum Institute, the details of deals with manufacturers will be released as and when negotiations are concluded and we are released from the terms of the communication of the non-disclosure agreements.

“This is commonplace in such circumstances, and most governments have had to comply with similar restrictions,” he said.

The president said that throughout the pandemic, government has been open and transparent with the South African people on the health measures it is taking to secure the safety of South Africans.

He added that the government will work to improve all its channels of communication, to keep the public regularly informed on the development of the vaccination programme, to provide information that is accurate and factual, and to continue to engage with and listen to the broad range of voices in our society.

“We have a massive task ahead of us, probably far greater than any of us has ever undertaken before.

“But if we work together, if we support and trust each other and if we keep the lines of communication open, we will certainly succeed.”

New Covid Variant Resistant to Vaccine?

The more transmissible strain of the corona virus, known as 501Y.V2, has ripped through South Africa resulting in record daily infections and deaths.  Several other countries are also trying to contain the outbreak of this new strain.  Meanwhile, Professor Penny Moore, leading a domestic research team, conducted a study that found the new strain to be vaccine-resistant in about 50% of cases.

IS 501Y.V2 VACCINE-RESISTANT?

Vaccines from AstraZeneca are set to come online at the end of the month, as South Africa rushes to ensure immunisation for its frontline healthcare workers. The manufacturers behind this particular shot are still researching how the new variant responds to their current vaccine formula, whereas Moderna – a provider that will not be providing vaccines to SA – isn’t unduly worried about the mutation.

In her research, Moore – a virologist at the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) – has found that the new variant ‘simply is not recognised’ in roughly 50% of cases. When testing for an immune response, antibodies in the blood failed to detect the virus in its latest form…

“When you test the blood of people infected in the first wave and you ask – ‘Do those antibodies in that blood recognise the new virus?’ – you find that almost 50% of cases, or nearly half of cases, there’s no longer any recognition of the new variant. In the other half of those individuals, however, there is some recognition that remains.

“I should add those are normally people who were incredibly ill, hospitalised, and mounted a very robust response to the virus. It is clear we have a problem. If you have very high antibodies to begin with, there does remain some recognition of the new virus and that’s important as we think about vaccines.”

“Some vaccines elicit very high levels of antibodies and others do not, so we need to understand whether there is some recognition by vaccine-elicited, rather than infection-elicited, antibodies.”

Professor Penny Moore

According to medical experts however, it is essential that we take these developments into context: Viruses mutate all the time, and if 50% of those tested in the study aren’t triggering an immune response, it means that 50% are. We should be encouraged rather than panicked.  The sicker you get the first time around, the more likely you are to develop the antibodies to eliminate the virus once more.

If those worst affected by COVID-19 are able to overcome the new variant, then it’s a positive we have to take alongside the negative. What is more, the process to ‘change and adapt vaccines’ to handle a different strain of the same virus is a relatively fast process, taking only weeks rather than months.

Research published by the Cold Spring Harbour Laboratory has found that the immune response to the new variant was only ‘reduced slightly’ – but did occur in almost everyone tested. He claims this is ‘nothing to freak out over’.

“These vaccines elicit neutralizing antibodies and appear to be safe and effective. Activity against SARS-CoV-2 variants encoding E484K or 501Y.V2 or the K417N: E484K: N501Y combination was reduced [only] by a small margin. The decrease is seen in just about every individual tested. But it’s not something that we should be horribly freaked out about.”

Dr. Nussenzweig 

SA Economy – The Worst is yet to come

If you have been following the news over the past two weeks as the second wave hit the country, you will be familiar with the bleak outlook for South Africa’s economy going forward.

In a research note published on Monday (18 January), Stellenbosch University’s Bureau for Economic Research (BER) pointed to the country’s Covid-19 numbers, which reached a weekly record in the first week of Janaury, as a concern.

“Subsequent daily releases of Covid-19 statistics suggest the picture has worsened since, with a record high of more than 800 deaths due to Covid-related complications recorded on Thursday (14 January) alone.

“Daily new infections have come down in recent days, but remain very high.”

Continued Load Shedding

The analysts said that the picture for the first quarter of 2021 is also more muted after stage 2 load shedding was implemented from Tuesday as 14,748 MW of generation capacity was unavailable due to unplanned maintenance, breakdowns and outages delays.

This was in addition to the 5,385 MW being unavailable due to planned maintenance and in total amounts to over 40% of Eskom’s installed generation capacity.

Over the weekend, Eskom also said that positive Covid-19 cases among employees were negatively affecting their operations and that of their suppliers.

“Looking further ahead, it is very concerning that Eskom’s forecast of demand and supply dynamics suggests that there is a risk of load-shedding every week for the next three months,” the BER said.

Financial support 

Despite restrictions continuing to weigh heavily on the hospitality and liquor industries, in particular, no mention has been made on additional (income) support for affected workers or businesses, according to the BER.

“However, later in the week encouraging reports emerged that business and labour are in negotiations with the government to extend the UIF/Ters scheme which ended in October.

“While Ramaphosa confirmed on Friday that government itself has no room to provide further fiscal support, it is estimated that the UIF has – if carefully managed – enough assets to allow for a further extension.

“This is especially so because the group of people affected by current restrictions is much smaller than before, but a particularly vulnerable group as their sectors have taken the strain from lockdown regulations for most of 2020. ”

The announcement by SA Breweries (SAB) that it would cancel another R2.5 billion of 2021 capital expenditure should not come as a surprise then, said the BER.

SAB had placed the investment under review pending “greater policy and regulatory certainty” which did not materialise amid a third outright alcohol ban and now warns it may have to consider even more “difficult measures”.

Vaccine Procurement and rollout

The BER said that there is still little clarity on South Africa’s actual vaccine strategy, including whether it refers to inoculations requiring only one shot, or two shots to be effective.

There are reports that  Treasury has agreed on an expedited payment process with the health department to buy more vaccines within a month, which is encouraging.

“Other tentative positive news is that, pending regulatory approval, the first batch of vaccines acquired from the Covax pool (in total set to cover 10% of South Africa’s population) will arrive in February already.”

Initial data from Israel, which has now provided a single vaccine dose to about 1 in 4 people, already shows promising signs of a slowdown in the rate of transmission and underscores how important it is to start the process as quickly as possible.

In terms of vaccination progress, Israel is followed by the United Arab Emirates (19% of the population), and Bahrain and the UK with about 6-8% of the population having received one dose already.

In the US, the percentage of people vaccinated remains lower (just below 4%) due to the large population, but their 7-day rolling average of daily vaccinations is now the highest in the world at close to 800,000 doses administered per day.

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