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Authorities requested to respect the rights of healthcare workers

The civil rights organisation AfriForum, the Caring Healthcare Workers’ Coalition (CHC) and the trade union Solidarity today sent a letter to the acting Minister of Health about the treatment of doctors and healthcare workers in general relating to the COVID-19 vaccines. The organisations requested 1) that the reporting of COVID-19 vaccine adverse events (AEs) be encouraged and made transparently and publicly available, 2) that the right and responsibility of medical doctors to make a recommendation on a medical treatment and to raise health concerns relating to a medical treatment (including COVID-19 vaccines) be protected, and 3) that the right of healthcare workers to make a free choice about receiving a COVID-19 vaccine be clearly communicated and protected.

This comes after the CHC received reports of doctors being intimidated when trying to report COVID-19 vaccine adverse events and being ridiculed and verbally attacked when raising legitimate health concerns relating to the vaccines. Reports from healthcare workers that they are forced to sign a refusal form if they choose not to receive the COVID-19 vaccine at this point in time and reports of healthcare workers being intimidated and threatened to coerce them into receiving the COVID-19 vaccines also prompted the organisations to take action.

The organisations also drew the attention of the minister to the SA COVID-19 and Vaccine Social Listening Report 4, published by the Department of Health on 7 June. In this report medical doctors are labelled “anti-vaxx” without the provision of any definition of this label and the facts upon which such a label is attached to a medical doctor. One of the suggested actions listed in the report is that so-called anti-vaxx doctors must be reported to the Health Professions Council of South Africa. The organisations expressed their concern with this recommendation because the implication is made that a doctor’s decision to not receive or recommend a vaccine or to raise health concerns relating to the COVID-19 vaccines is malpractice. It also institutes a harmful form of policing in medical practice.

“As doctors we have an obligation and a responsibility to our patients. Helping them make an informed choice is part of that. More importantly, we have to ensure that the ‘choice’ to take a vaccine at this point is in fact still a choice,” says Dr Naseeba Kathrada, Spokesperson of the CHC.

“An evidence-based patient-specific medical approach must be followed where the medical practitioner must be able to fully advise the patient to enable the patient to make an informed decision,” says Henru Krüger, Sector Head of Medical at Solidarity.

“The public requires proper reporting of vaccine adverse events and that this information be transparently and publicly available to enable them to exercise informed consent when deciding to receive COVID-19 vaccines, some of which are currently in phase three of clinical trials and not yet registered,” says Barend Uys, Head of Research at AfriForum.

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