Acting director-general of the department of health, Nicholas Crisp, said the government hasn’t made vaccinations mandatory because this would not be legal.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, Crisp explained that if the government was to try to make vaccinations mandatory, “it will be in the Constitutional Court and chucked out in five minutes.”
He also explained that while private businesses can impose mandatory vaccination policies, the government could not impose such policies on public servants.
This is because “their employer is the department of public service and administration, and we have a complicated bargaining process where these things get thrashed out.”
Crisp also spoke about the country’s vaccination goals and said he would ultimately love to see everyone living in South Africa vaccinated.
However, he believes the responsibility to solve the country’s low vaccination problem does not rest exclusively on the health department.
“We would like to see the department of trade and industry, the department of sports, arts and culture, the department of water affairs, the department of agriculture doing more within their spheres of influence,” said Crisp.
“Social development, for instance, has more access to unemployed people than we do.”
However, Crisp said that many of these departments are “more passive” than the department of health would like them to be.
Changes to vaccination rules
Crisp’s statements follow a circular that reduces the intervals South Africans must wait between vaccine doses.
If you are receiving the Pfizer-BioNTech Cominarty two-dose vaccine, you now only need to wait 21 days before getting your second shot, while for the booster shot, the waiting period has been reduced from 180 days to 90 days.
Crisp explained that South Africa had increased the intervals between vaccine shots last year because the country had begun to run out of vaccine stock, but this is no longer an issue.
This circular also allows different vaccines to be mixed for booster shots.
“We are now able to mix the vaccines. It has been done in other parts of the world for some time, and we are now formally introducing it into our schedule,” said Crisp.
Crisp added that early evidence suggests regular booster shots may not be necessary, but this could change depending on the new variants that emerge.
“We don’t think at this stage that it looks like we will need to re-boost because these vaccines are generating cellular immunity, and that’s got very good memory,” he explained.
“We’ll watch and see what happens, and it seems that as long as we’re dealing with the same variants — or very similar variants to what we have at the moment — it may not be necessary to keep boosting.”