Universities relax Covid-19 vaccination policy, but students warned to be careful

Students should be wary of universities’ relaxed policies on Covid vaccines as they have not been completely lifted but are “still lurking behind closed doors,” activists warn.

Although the University of the Free State (UFS) decided to drop its mandatory vaccination policy, Wits University and the University of Johannesburg (UJ) “softened up” their policies, which student activist Kgotatso Rampedi called not good enough.

“This does not mean that these mandates are off the table, it just means that they have been shelved,” he said.

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Why they “temporarily suspend” certain measures but insist the policy remains in place

“Students have been forced to get vaccinated just so they can continue their education, even if they pay for it.”

Universities Alliance SA (Uasa), which has demanded that universities review and waive their vaccination policies, warned students to be careful as the policy is simply relaxed, not completely eliminated, “meaning those requirements could come back when the university considers it necessary.”

The University of Rhodes, the University of Cape Town and the University of Pretoria have also abandoned the use of masks.

Shirona Patel of Wits University said the university has temporarily suspended its vaccination policy from July 14.

“About 95% of the Wits community has been vaccinated and several hundred of the approximately 40,000 students and 5,500 permanent employees have received reasonable housing,” she said.

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However, a notice on the university’s website states that “protocols are subject to change as the virus evolves, rules change and science advances.”

“We will review our policies, rules and regulations, and in particular our mandatory vaccination policy, based on the best available scientific evidence and subsequent interaction with relevant entities at the university,” the notice reads.

UJ’s Mpiletso Motumi said that, after consulting with the UJ Council, they have relaxed some provisions of their Mandatory Vaccination Policy, effective June 24.

“UJ has suspended the wearing of masks on campus premises; and submitting proof of vaccination or a weekly negative PCR test to gain access to our campuses,” she said.

“In the event of an increase in Covid infections and the associated risk to our staff, students and third parties, the university may be required to reinstate suspended measures.”

But UJ security guards said they are still requesting vaccination certificates and masks.

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