Encourage vaccine uptake, says Busi Mavuso BLSA CEO

The current daily vaccination rate is 50 percent below target.

Business Leadership South Africa (BLSA) CEO Busi Mavuso says business is already doing a lot to encourage uptake of the vaccine, but more needs to be done and employers are encouraged to support their employees to become vaccinated.

“We have now delivered more than 20 -million vaccine doses, with 10.5 million people fully vaccinated. Opening vaccinations to over-12s later this month will add momentum for a while. But it is clear that take-up rates are slowing. We have 27 percent of our adult population fully vaccinated, including 53 percent of those over 60, but need to reach 60 percent to 70 percent to minimise the impact of the virus,” she notes in her weekly newsletter.

Busi says the country’s challenge is now about reaching recipients and overcoming vaccine hesitancy.

“Our delivery rate has improved – we have delivered over one million doses in three of the last four weeks – but we are at half the 350,000-a-day rate now needed to reach the 70 percent target by the end of the year. Discovery has estimated that if we reach 60 percent, we would avoid 25,000 deaths from a fourth wave that could strike in December. At our current rate, we are on course for 50 percent by Christmas. This may even be a stretch,” she says.

With the festive season approaching, people are expected to travel and attend gatherings, with vaccine hesitancy impeding an effective vaccine roll-out programme.

Busi further comments on the discussion on whether companies should implement mandatory vaccination for employees.

“The law says that companies have a responsibility to ensure that employees operate in a safe environment. They must primarily consider the health risks that exist in the workplace – a company that has no face-to-face contact between employees or customers could not justifiably require vaccines as an essential safety measure.

“But when companies do mandate vaccines, there is a material public benefit externality that arises – they are helping to ensure that the overall South African vaccination rate ratchets up closer to levels needed to reduce deaths and ensure more economic activity,” she says.

Companies throughout the world have adopted different stances on mandatory vaccination in the workplace, with a range of measures for employees who are unwilling or unable to vaccinate, including dismissal.

In terms of legality, she notes that a similar route could be chosen in South Africa, however companies should try to accommodate employees who still refuse vaccination, for example by requiring the alternative of regular mandatory testing or isolation.

She says, “Providing leave for vaccinations is a legal requirement, but also another way to encourage employees to get vaccinated. Indeed, there is some evidence that one of the major problems is that many workers, particularly in the informal sector, just don’t have time to get vaccinated. That problem needs to be addressed by making vaccines even more accessible.

“Government should also explore the use of mandates in the public sector. Healthcare workers at least should be required to be vaccinated and I can see a strong argument for the same to apply to teachers and others who work closely with the public.”