South Africans divided over compulsory vaccination – survey

Survey shows South Africans divided over compulsory vaccination

More than half of adult South Africans support employers making Covid-19 vaccinations compulsory and proof of vaccination to enter public places (vaccine passports), according to a survey by the Centre for Social Change at the University of Johannesburg (UJ) and the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).

Last week (7 December), Employment and Labour Minister Thulas Nxesi said Nedlac has recommended that the government introduce vaccine mandates and passports, although it seems these policies will not be applied universally (see below).

The findings of the UJ/HSRC survey, which were released on Friday, show that 54% are in favour of compulsory vaccinations in the workplace and 51% support vaccine passports. (Click here to download the full report.)

However, support for these policies differs considerably by vaccination status and willingness to vaccinate. Among the fully vaccinated, support for compulsory workplace vaccination and vaccine passports is 75% and 78%, respectively. However, support for both falls to under 10% among those who are unvaccinated and do not want to be vaccinated.

Support for compulsory workplace vaccination is highest amongst Indian adults (65%), followed by black African adults (56%) and coloured adults (49%), and is lowest among white adults (32%).

Similarly, support for vaccine passports is lower among white adults, 32%, compared to 54% for black African adults, 51% for Indian adults, and 46% among coloured adults.

The findings are from the fifth round of the UJ/HSRC Covid-19 Democracy Survey, which collected data between 22 October and 17 November 2021.The survey was completed by 6 633 participants. The data was weighted to match Statistics SA’s data on race, education and age.

Higher levels of education seem to be associated with greater opposition to compulsory workplace vaccination and vaccine passports:

  • 61% of those with less than matric support compulsory workplace vaccination compared to 39% of those with post-matric education.
  • 60% of those with less than matric support providing proof of vaccination to enter public places compared to 40% of those with post-matric education.

There were negligible differences by gender and small differences by age.

Adults aged 18 to 24 years had slightly higher support for compulsory workplaces vaccination compared to older age groups: 57% compared to 52% for those aged 55 and above. However, they were slightly less supportive of vaccine passports: 51% compared to 55% for those aged 55 and above.

Nedlac backs vaccine mandates, passports

Nxesi told the 26th annual Nedlac Summit that the social partners represented in the Nedlac Rapid Response Task Team have proposed that:

  • The “health and safety direction” of the Department of Employment and Labour should be strengthened so that vaccination can become mandatory “where a risk assessment at the workplace requires this”.
  • Access to certain venues, gatherings and events, particularly in the hospitality sector, should be restricted to vaccinated people only.
  • The regulations on the maximum capacity at gatherings, venues and events should be simplified, the provision of ventilation added, and enforcement strengthened so that social distancing can be adhered to.

Nxesi also said although the social partners believe that vaccine mandates will pass constitutional scrutiny, they support Business Unity SA (Busa) obtaining a declaratory order from the Constitutional Court in the new year.

Busa not seeking Constitutional Court order

But on Friday Busa issued a statement saying it has not indicated that it will be approaching the Constitutional Court for a declaratory order.

“The correct position is that Busa indicated we will consult our legal advisers about the possibility of applying to the High Court for a declaratory order to provide additional legal certainty to back up the OHS guidelines already in place. We are in the process of doing this but will not be able to put in an application in January 2022, after senior counsel is satisfied that we have the necessary case to apply for a declaratory order,” Busa chief executive Cas Coovadia said.

He said Busa believes “the current OHS guidelines enable employers to put into place mechanisms to enable vaccination of all staff to meet their responsibility of ensuring a safe workplace for all their staff”.

Pandemic knocks life expectancy

Meanwhile, the pandemic has resulted in life expectancy at birth in South Africa falling from an average of 65.5 to 62 years, says Jacques van Zuydam, the Department of Social Development’s chief director: population and development.

Quoting figures from Statistics SA, he said deaths had increased by 34% in 2021.

As a result of the first, second and third (in June 2021) waves, the crude death rate rose from 8.7 deaths per 1 000 people in 2020 to 11.6 per 1 000 in 2021.

Van Zuydam said this during a webinar on 8 December on the demographic impact of Covid-19 and response measures in BRICS countries.

Since May last year, “excess deaths” (deaths above expected mortality based on trends over the past two years) have reached 273 239.

He said the pandemic has had little impact on the population age structure and has had no significant impact on child mortality.

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