Monday, 16 August 2021

Pretoria: The South African Medical Association (SAMA) has expressed its dismay at reports that some healthcare workers, including doctors, have discouraged patients from getting COVID-19 vaccinations, based on doubts about the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness.

SAMA Chairperson, Dr Angelique Coetzee, said the organisation wholly rejects any doubts about the COVID-19 vaccine.

“There is high confidence among the scientific and medical community about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines being rolled-out in South Africa, and they have also undergone safety and efficacy tests by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.

“These are overwhelming endorsements of the vaccines, and there should be no doubt that every citizen must get them,” Dr Coetzee said.

Dr Coetzee said the medical fraternity must be united in its commitment to ensure wider access to the vaccines.

This, she said, must be based on spreading accurate, evidence-based information, dispelling any misinformation and overcoming vaccine hesitancy, which threatens the goal of achieving optimal vaccine coverage.

Dr Coetzee said the vaccine hesitancy arises from a combination of ignorance, misinformation, conspiracy theories, doubt of scientific evidence, concerns relating to medical histories, and cultural, religious and philosophical beliefs.

“Vaccine hesitancy, however, should be condemned, and so should those who fuel it, particularly doctors who should know better. We share concerns with global and local scientists – and I use that term purposefully – that unfounded objections to COVID-19 vaccines deepen the public health crisis caused by the pandemic.”

Vaccines represent significant public health innovations

The chairperson noted that the societal benefits of vaccines have historically been proven over and over again, and that “vaccines represent one of the most significant public health innovations to date which have altered the trajectory of human health”.

“It’s important that South Africans realise the value of vaccines and that the country’s vaccine rate rapidly increases from its current low of only six percent of the population. For this reason, SAMA will continue to urge for greater global vaccine equity and continue to challenge intellectual and property restrictions which are impeding access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines,” she said.

She further noted that significant strides have been made by prioritising healthcare workers for vaccines, and that the government should be commended for this action.

Share science-based data, not personal views

Dr Coetzee emphasised that healthcare workers, especially doctors, who have not yet been vaccinated must take the opportunity to do so not only for their own health, but also because of an ethical responsibility to “do no harm”.

“We have an obligation to protect our patients from COVID-19 and this includes encouraging vaccination. Encouraging vaccinations means, as medical doctors, we must impart accurate, science-based data, not personal views. This is the only way we afford patients the right to informed consent.” Dr Coetzee said.