Student Representatives at the University of the Witwatersrand have expressed their disapproval of the university’s decision to adopt a mandatory vaccination.
The SRC at Wits University has said that it disagrees with the university’s decision to implement a proposed mandatory vaccination policy. The student body says that this sets precedent for policy changes that could, in the long-term, infringe on student rights.
In a statement issued on Wednesday this past week, the student body questioned the university’s motives in making it compulsory for students to provide proof that they have been vaccinated in order to access its facilities.
The SRC also points out that it is not opposed to students being vaccinated but rather the coercion that comes with the conditions of the proposed policy.
Mandatory vaccinations would entail Wits University appointing itself the authority over students’ bodily autonomy. The precedent being set in free and democratic South Africa is that public institutions can dictate the medical procedures that people need to undertake in order to gain access to those institutions.
The SRC further states that this would in the long-term give higher learning institutions the power to strip students of their rights and freedoms in other aspects of their lives while on campus.
However, the university’s Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation, Lynn Morris takes a differing view and says that the university seeks to address the health and safety concerns among its staff and students.
She adds that since the safety and efficacy of the vaccines have been proven, it is only fair that the university insists on mandatory vaccinations for safety reasons.
She also points out that they have made a provision known as reasonable accommodation for those that would have legitimate reasons to refuse being vaccinated.
“Students can apply for what is called reasonable accommodation, so they would need to have a reason and that would be whether they are prone to blood clots or they may have some religious reason and the university would look to see if they can be accommodated” she explains
She adds that reasonable accommodation will not be easy for some people, especially those who operate in the health sector and constantly deal with patients.
Morris also states that it is just as important to keep in mind that the policy also revolves around protecting the rights of those that have already been vaccinated.
The Deputy Vice-Chancellor also admits that the university is yet to determine the full amount of staff and who have been vaccinated since the policy comes into effect on 1 January 2022.