Are unvaccinated teachers a problem?

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"We understand the right of teachers to refuse to take the vaccine, but what about the right of those who have taken the vaccine? 

What about the right of learners to safety? Doesn't that matter?"

Education activist Hendrick Makaneta has lambasted teachers who refuse to take the Covid-19 vaccine.

They are a danger not only to their colleagues and students but also to themselves and their own families," Makaneta told Parent24, adding, "It is disappointing that even learned people believe fake news."

Right not to vaccinate is limited

He asks that because Covid-19 has put all of us under siege, the portfolio committee on health should look at the possibility of introducing legislation that will protect those who have vaccinated against those who refuse to take the vaccine.

"In as much as we respect the right of people who refuse to take vaccine, it should be noted that their right not to vaccinate is limited in accordance with section 36 of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa," Makaneta described. 

He explained that the right of teachers who refuse to get the vaccine is not absolute, as their right to reject the vaccine ends where the right to health of vaccinated teachers begins.

"We cannot allow unvaccinated teachers to put the lives of learners at risk. Government must find a way to deal with teachers who refuse to take vaccine," he said.

Makaneta said that teachers who refuse to take be vaccinated are undermining their duty of care which clearly stipulates that in the absence of the parent at school, the teacher automatically becomes a parent. 

"What kind of parent puts their children at risk? The duty of care is a legal obligation to care and love the learners irrespective of their social background and unvaccinated teachers threaten the safety of such learners," he stressed. 

But what are the risks?

But are unvaccinated teachers really a risk to their students and their peers?

Parent24 spoke to Dr Jacques Snyman, Medical advisor at Health Squared Medical Scheme, who told us that anyone can transmit Covid-19, whether or not they have been vaccinated. 

"It therefore remains crucial for everyone to continue to take personal responsibility in their actions to help prevent the spread of the virus, irrespective of their vaccination status," he stressed. 

He added that it is important to understand that while vaccines provide an excellent measure of protection against severe illness for vaccinated individuals, they can still become ill with Covid-19 and can transmit the virus to other people. 

However, it is not clear that unvaccinated teachers pose any greater risk of transmitting the virus than their learners, who are not yet eligible for vaccination. 

Although limited information is available on the new Delta variant, he says that indications so far suggest that it can spread much more easily – and it could be 55% to 97% more transmissible than the original strain of the virus.  

He added that many young people may feel invincible, but it is reported that younger people are becoming seriously ill with Covid-19 in the third wave, possibly as a result of the Delta variant.

'Everyone should register'

"It is advisable, however," he stressed, "that everyone should register for the vaccine as soon as they become eligible."

This not only safeguards the individual’s health and helps to reduce pressure on the healthcare system by lowering their clinical risk for severe Covid-19, but hopefully it will also bring us a step closer to achieving population or herd immunity.

Dr Snyman said that daily screening, wearing masks, social distancing, regular sanitising of hands and surfaces, and good ventilation, as well as self-isolation and testing, in line with the recommended guidelines will need to remain in place for the foreseeable future. 

"We all have a responsibility to slow the spread and prevent too many people becoming seriously ill at the same time, potentially outstripping the country’s healthcare resource," he said. 

If we act immediately, many thousands of lives could be saved in the months ahead, he stressed. 

What do teachers say?

Parent24 asked teachers to share their experience and of the many we interviewed, the majority agreed that getting vaccinated, while a daunting task to some, was the right thing to do.

Kelee, a Grade 1 teacher believes that getting vaccinated is the best and the right decision. 

"I believe it is a matter of time before the Department of Basic Education decides that if teachers are not willing to protect themselves and the students around them by taking the vaccine they fought so hard to procure, they will implement repercussions for such a choice," she told us. 

"You don't vaccinate just for yourself, you vaccinate for those around you as well and those who medically cannot vaccinate," she stressed. "Our race for herd immunity is almost at a stand still, and at this rate we will only unmask ourselves in 2023, and this dragging of feet attitude is having huge, detrimental emotional repercussions. The choice to not vaccinate is a choice to extend economic shut downs, extend masking up, and keep infection rates and death rates high." 

Kelee blames the government for the low vaccination rates, telling us that "they forget the crippling poverty and so while critical information to explain what this vaccine is and what it will do for our country was given, it was not given that all could have access to it."

"It's erroneous to assume that all people have access to televisions or cellphones. More should have been done to educate everyone," she said. 

Lynne, a Grade 5 teacher, told us she believes that it is everyone’s right to choose whether they want to be vaccinated or not. "I chose to be vaccinated in order to protect myself and my family," she said, adding that she was anxious as she didn’t know how her body would react.

"I have had quite bad reactions to the flu injection before. However, I only had a slight headache and upset stomach for one day," she shared.

A Grade 5 teacher who asked for his name to be withheld told Parent24 that he felt privileged to be able to get vaccinated, adding "I feel that it is your responsibility to get vaccinated, not only for yourself but for your community."

Natasha, a Grade 11 and 12 accounting teacher told us "Ultimately, it is their personal choice. But I feel it is short sighted. You have been given the opportunity to protect yourself and if you choose not to do so, then you are at risk."  

She added that she was delighted to have the opportunity to receive the vaccination.

"Being in contact with numerous students on a daily basis that all come from different backgrounds, having the vaccine has given me huge peace of mind that I am a little safer should I contract the virus. It is the only form of protection that we can get from this horrendous virus at this stage," she said.

Nkosinathi, who teaches Digital Literacy and Robotics, told us that he got vaccinated for peace of mind, and in a bid to speed the return to 'normality'.

As for his peers who choose not to accept the vaccine, he says "No judgement. But reaching herd immunity might be assisted by their choice to get vaccinated, instead of not, but getting the vaccine has been offered as an option. Obviously, the concern for colleagues' safety and wellness still exists." 

Do you feel that unvaccinated teachers are a danger to the school? 

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