The COVID-19 pandemic is ravaging the world’s population with little to no sign of it slowing down. Medical experts have suggested that the only way the world’s population will overcome this terrible virus is to vaccinate against it. Vaccines are at the ready and are being distributed in mass to all countries.
On 3 January 2021, South Africa’s Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize formally outlined South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout strategy, as the country deals with a second and more infectious wave of the virus. It came as a relief to some and a shock to others to learn that South Africa will be vaccinating a minimum of 67% of its population to achieve herd immunity. What was more surprising is South Africa aims to achieve this target before the end of this year. The questions that many people are asking now is, can I be forced to vaccinate?
South Africa presently does not have a policy or any laws in place to compel you to be vaccinated. The current vaccination schedule is only encouraged by our Department of Health, meaning you are not legally required to vaccinate yourself and/or your children. Section 12(2) of the Constitution provides that “everyone has the right to bodily and psychological integrity, which includes the right not to be subjected to medical or scientific experiments without their formal consent”. This means your right to refuse the vaccination is constitutionally protected.
However, your refusal to submit yourself and/or your children to be vaccinated may result in other practical exclusions that you may face because of your decision. For instance, it has been reported that in order to travel internationally you will have to produce a certificate stating that you have been vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. Employers and schools may also insist that staff and students alike carry similar certificates before being granted access to their premises. Whilst you cannot be forced to vaccinate certain rights, as a consequence of your decision not to vaccinate, may be lawfully limited in terms of Section 36 of the Constitution.
It currently remains unclear as to how our Health Department aims to achieve its target to vaccinate 67% of our population, whether it intends to do so by voluntary means or by further amendments to certain laws and/or regulations. We can however prepare for a future of many legal challenges, be it from people patiently waiting on the vaccine who are being prejudiced by availability of the vaccine, those that outright refuse to be vaccinated and those that may potentially be and/or feel forced to vaccinate.
In a year of uncertainty, you can rest assured knowing that we at BBP Law are ready and able to assist you.