Thursday, October 28, 2021

BONELA/BFTU campaign threatens to undermine Botswana’s vaccine gains

A campaign by Botswana Network on Ethics, Law and HIV/AIDS’s (BONELA)is threatening to undermine Botswana’s honour as Africa’s poster boy on how to deal with vaccine hesitancy.

Botswana Federation of Trade Unions has joined BONELA’s campaign to protect vaccine hesitancy.

BONELA has issued a statement that, notwithstanding the documented benefits of Covid-19 vaccines,these vaccines should not be made mandatory in any situation including in the workplace.

“Making vaccines mandatory is an infringement on human rights, primarily the right to personal liberty and freedom from discrimination. Vaccine mandates to a very large extent violate the rights of people who object to being vaccinated for religious and medical reasons. Furthermore, mandatory vaccination in the workplace has the potential to breed discrimination on people who opt not to be vaccinated,” the statement read.

This comes after the World Health Organisation singled out Botswana as one of four African countries that have completed an intra action review of their early COVID-19 vaccine roll-out to gauge the level of vaccine hesitancy.

Botswana is one of few African countries that conducted surveys to gauge public perceptions around vaccinations and set up a national ‘ArmReady’ information campaign to prepare the public.

“Our national deployment plan was sanctioned at the level of the Cabinet Office. The surveys showed 76% acceptance of the vaccination among the public. Through the ‘ArmReady’ campaign, we also sought to pre-empt small pockets of resistance.

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“The aim was to spot challenges and best practices so we can keep customising our roll-out. It helped us take quick corrective measures and improve our services,” says Dr Malebogo Kebabonye, Director of Health Services at Botswana’s Ministry of Health and Wellness.”

There are fears that this may incite vaccine hesitancy because the campaign by BONELA and Botswana Federation on Trade Unions is a bolt from the blues not prompted by any official position.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness’s (MOHW) position is that people should voluntarily get vaccinated. Chief public relations officer Christopher Nyanga said no decision has been taken to force people to get vaccinated for Covid-19. “What the ministry is doing is an aggressive public education and sensitization campaign for people to get vaccinated given the known benefits of vaccination. As of now, we are satisfied with the numbers of people turning up for vaccination,” Nyanga said.

Secretary-General of the Botswana Federation of Trade Unions (BFTU), Thusang Butale, shares the position of the BONELA.

“We hold that whilst scientific research has confirmed the benefits of vaccination both to the individual and those around them, it remains the choice of the individual to decide whether their conscience, religion or conviction and even extent of awareness about its safety, allows them to take the vaccine,” Butale said.

The union furthers posits that expediting the roll-out of the Covid-19 vaccines for those who are ready to take it would be the best thing to do in order to enhance herd immunity which from a scientific point of view would represent another effective way of tackling the pandemic.

“BFTU submits that at the workplace, the issue of vaccination should not be the prerogative of government or employers alone rather it presents an opportunity for parties to dialogue and come up with comprehensive policies to address any attendant concerns including discrimination which could result from the choices the individuals would have made,” said Butale.

On the national plane, BFTU believes the government should consider ratifying relevant human and labour rights conventions including convention 190 which speaks to the problem of harassment and discrimination in the workplace.

The United States (US) president, Joe Biden, decided to introduce a vaccine mandate for millions of workers. The new US rules require most federal employees to be vaccinated as well as employees of companies larger than 100 employees who will either have to be vaccinated or face mandatory testing.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has said before that in the absence of a sufficient, reliable vaccine supply that would permit every eligible member of the general public to be vaccinated, a mandate for the general public would fail to address ethical considerations regarding sufficient supply. According to the WHO even if there is a sufficient, reliable vaccine supply, policymakers should consider whether mandatory vaccination of the general population is necessary and proportionate to achieve intended public health goals.

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