Basic Education Department: Teachers will not be forced to be vaccinated

As essential workers, educators will be included in phase two of South Africa’s vaccine roll-out.

FILE: The University of Oxford and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca have developed a COVID-19 vaccine. Picture: AFP.

JOHANNESBURG - The Basic Education Department won’t be putting teachers under pressure to get the COVID vaccine.

As essential workers, educators will be included in phase two of South Africa’s vaccine roll-out.

Teachers have been particularly hard hit by COVID-19, with more than 1,600 succumbing to the virus in recent months.

But the department’s director general Mathanzima Mweli said the law didn't allow them to force teachers to be vaccinated.

Mweli said they would, however, encourage teachers to take the vaccine when it was their turn to get the jabs as this would save many lives.

"For now it will be the best way to manage the spread and deal with the pandemic. All teacher unions were at the forefront saying teachers must be considered as frontline workers, pushing to receive the vaccine first."

In two weeks public schools will reopen for the first time under the adjusted level three lockdown restrictions, and as fresh infection numbers continue to rise, the countdown is causing anxiety among teachers.

READ: ‘We are not invincible’ – Teachers fearful ahead of reopening of schools

For many the promised COVID vaccines are a ray of hope in an increasingly bleak situation, but for some teachers, mixed messages around the vaccines are confusing.

Golden Phogole is a teacher at a Johannesburg primary school and said he was anxious about getting a vaccine when he didn’t know what was in it.

“I’m sceptical of it. I don’t know the reliability of it and the implications of putting it in our bodies.”

A principal at a primary school in Somerset West Vusumzi Zweni agreed that government needed to step up its information campaign around vaccines

He also wants the reopening of schools delayed until all teachers were vaccinated.

"Obviously there’s a lot of fake news around these vaccines. It’s incumbent on the government of South Africa to ally our fears as public service workers.”

Vuyisile Zali is a principle at Kagiso Senior Secondary in Johannesburg and he said religious organisations were also sending out confusing mixed messages around the vaccines.

“It doesn’t help the layman in accepting the vaccine easily to say that this is something that is going to help medically.

Several influential politicians and religious leaders have raised concerns about vaccines - many of them baseless.

However, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority said there was no doubt that vaccines were lifesavers and safe to take.

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