In a statement released on Thursday, the South African Bishops conference praised president Cyril Ramaphosa’s clarification of his herd immunity policy on 1st February.
The president said that herd immunity would be achieved once “67% of our people” are immune. Saying that none are safe until all are safe, he stated that “we aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status.”
“We will be putting in place measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history,” Ramamphosa continued.
The bishops praised the “laudable” and “strong” commitment to vaccine inclusivity, but they raised concerns about the policy.
“Firstly, we must hope that there will be very clear messaging that reassures undocumented people that the disclosure of personal details will not be shared with law-enforcement agencies and used against them later,” they said.
The “very real fear” that their information could be used against them deterred many from taking Covid-19 tests.
They cited examples of good practice in the past, encouraging the Department of Health to give guarantees once again that personal data taken from phone records about the “length of time the data would be stored” for.
The bishops expressed further fears that access to the vaccine would be “dependent on IDs and passports”.
“The Electronic Vaccination Data System, while including non-SA citizens, makes no provision for those without either of those documents” they note.
Even so, not all refugees with documents are recognised on the EVDS. Those with Asylum Seeker Visas or Refugee Documentation are among them. The bishops call for their inclusion.
Lastly, the statement turned to the misinformation which “seems to congregate around vaccine hesitancy and vaccine literacy”.
“The President gave the assurance that nobody would be vaccinated against their will, but we would argue that every organisation should be encouraged to be part of a co-ordinated campaign to encourage vaccinations, each according to their area of expertise.”
Quoting the Vatican Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, the South African bishops accept Ramaphosa’s point about the vaccine being voluntary but strongly encouraged its use.
“Recently, the Vatican’s Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith said: “Vaccination is not, as a rule, a moral obligation” and must be voluntary. Still, it said, from an ethical point of view, “the morality of vaccination depends not only on the duty to protect one’s own health but also on the duty to pursue the common good.” Receiving vaccinations is thus to be strongly encouraged. “