Panic is steadily reviving with the detection of a new variant of the Covid-19 virus. With this new development, the University of the Free State (UFS) has announced its approval of mandatory vaccination of staff and students.
The variant was discovered by South African scientists on November 24 but is not a South African variant. The B.1.1.529 variant, or Omicron, was first reported to the WHO by South Africa and was designated “a variant of concern”.
A couple of days later, on November 26, the UFS council approved its vaccination policy.
The university said the aim of the Covid-19 Regulations and Required Vaccination Policy is to regulate access of staff, ad hoc contract workers and students to all the university’s premises. The policy will be implemented as from February 14, 2022.
UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor Professor Francis Petersen said the policy implies that the university does not force anyone to be vaccinated, but the institution has the right to require vaccination if you want to access its premises, in order to protect staff and students.
“The UFS is a residential university that requires face-to-face engagement by both staff and students, and operational requirements entail that our staff, ad hoc contract workers, and students are regularly exposed to large groups on the three campuses. We have a fiduciary duty to ensure a safe and caring environment and to meet the health and safety obligations on the campuses,” said Petersen.
While the university was mostly operating on remote learning, Petersen said the culture and strategy of the university did not align well with this, but supported blended learning.
“We believe that the policy will be a contributing factor in encouraging the entire university community to make the responsible decision to vaccinate,” he said.
Rhodes University also adopted a mandatory vaccination policy that will be implemented for the 2022 academic year.
The university said the vaccination requirement also applies as a condition for registration for all students, as well as for staff working on campus, service providers and visitors.
“A recommendation for an exemption application process and an alternative health status process for those who cannot take the vaccine on medical or other legitimate and justifiable grounds was also approved,” Rhodes University said in a statement.
All applications for the exemption will be evaluated by a team. If the exemption is successful, then one of the requirements may be for the student or staff member to produce a negative Covid-19 test result on a weekly basis. This would be at the cost of the student, staff member, visitor or service provider concerned in specific circumstances.
Other universities that have adopted mandatory vaccination policy
- University of Cape Town
- University of the Western Cape
- University of the Witwatersrand
Universities South Africa, a body that represents 26 public institutions, indicated it would support the call for a policy that mandates vaccination to prevent campuses from becoming Covid-19 breeding grounds.
“Universities SA and the universities are deeply engaged with the challenge of having students back on campus and taking classes. It may well be that there may be increased use of technology, but there is also a clear recognition that learning and teaching are intensely social activities,” said Universities South Africa chief executive Professor Ahmed Bawa.