According to the Constitution, every individual is afforded the right to decide whether they want to be vaccinated. The UCT Senate’s recent decision on a vaccine mandate goes against this, and the university should rather be encouraging vaccinations through consistent and persuasive campaigning.
By Asemahle Ntoyakhe (staff writer)
In correspondence with some University of Cape Town (UCT) students and the wider community that I have spoken to, a vaccine mandate is viewed as an infraction on their right to self-autonomy. This sentiment comes in the wake of UCT’s Senate voting in favour of mandating vaccines, commencing at the start of the 2022 academic year. The decision now lies with the UCT Council.
The acquisition of vaccines by the wider UCT community is paramount to the campus operating optimally and at full capacity. Students are currently disenfranchised by online learning, with economically disadvantaged students facing the most detriment. The lack of access to resources, which could be found on campus, further accentuates this. There are no feasible alternatives with regard to working and study spaces, access to the internet and access to the library.
However, there seems to be a large number of people who do not support vaccines being enforced. This conforms to the Higher Education Act 101 of 1997 (HEA), which effectively bars the Senate from sanctioning any binding recommendations without consulting the institution’s wider community. In addition, the UCT Institutional Statute essentially also prohibits the Senate from implementing vaccine mandates. Students also argue that a vaccine mandate intrinsically separates the student body into diametrically opposed sides, which are namely: vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals.
If not vaccinated, the possibility of frequent, mandatory testing of unvaccinated individuals may be indefensible and discriminatory. It is common knowledge that none of the vaccines are completely effective and that vaccinated persons may still contract Covid-19. Some students are therefore averse to the vaccines, as they would rather be afforded the choice to wait until full immunity is possible by way of the vaccines.
The vaccines are available for intake, which remains an individual decision in correspondence with the constitutional provisions. Therefore, in agreement with constitutional ethos, an individual’s decision to not receive a vaccine should be voluntary and made without any undue influence. The Constitution unanimously respects and protects a decision of such magnitude. It is therefore unambiguous that under the present circumstances, the only viable option is for the university community to increasingly and collectively promote voluntary uptakes of vaccines through consistent, persuasive, and ethical campaigning.
Currently, it is uncertain whether the state can and will enforce legislation or other governmental measures in order to compel COVID-19 vaccinations. If this occurred, the university would presumptively follow suit. The most effective plan of action currently, is cultivating a sense of herd-immunity within the wider UCT community.