The Covid-19 pandemic brings home just how connected we are at a microbiological level, how we can pass on bacteria and viruses through sneezing, coughing and touch.
The connection is an expression of our biological interconnectivity, which plays out culturally, socially and politically. As the infection rate in South Africa rises, the benefits of immunisation and the proper role for the government and the citizenry are being debated.
The topics of debate include questions such as what happens when one person’s individual choice leads to the otherwise preventable infection of another person who chooses differently.
How do you assign people’s rights and responsibilities to an airborne virus? And how far can or should the government intrude into family decisions that affect the safety and health of children?
Here are the reasons the lines are hard to draw: different countries have different vaccination policies.
In some countries, vaccination (immunisation) is voluntary, while in other countries, it is mandatory, as part of their health system.
The usual diseases targeted include mumps, measles, rubella, polio, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, and varicella (chickenpox).In some countries, vaccination is mandatory, unless an exemption is granted before children enrol in public schools.
Exemptions are granted in some cases, for religious reasons or medical reasons such as allergies to the ingredients used in vaccinations.
As a medical student, I learnt that being intentionally unvaccinated against highly contagious airborne diseases is, to extend the metaphor, “like walking down a street randomly swinging your fists without warning.
You may not hit an innocent bystander, but you’ve substantially increased the chances”.
Also, I learnt of the non-aggression principle. One such is the harm principle, as outlined by John Stuart Mill. in On Liberty. Mill argues that “the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilised community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others”.
Vaccination clearly prevents harm to others. As a qualified medical doctor, I have followed the evolution of vaccination policies and science with interest.
Drawing on the University of Pittsburgh’s Project Tycho database of infectious disease statistics since 1888, the New England Journal of Medicine once concluded that vaccinations since 1924 have prevented 103 million cases of polio, measles, rubella, mumps, hepatitis A, diphtheria and pertussis.
They have played a substantial role in greatly reducing death and hospitalisation rates, as well as the sheer unpleasantness of being hobbled by disease.
I am a strong advocate of vaccination against communicable and infectious diseases. I am therefore against the hysteria and pseudoscience behind much of the antivaccination rhetoric.
That is why, as a newly qualified doctor in the 1990s, I established public-private partnerships to decentralise immunisations of babies in communities north of Pretoria, in Hebron village, thus expediting the efficiency of immunisation.
This worked well, especially for working mothers as they could immunise their babies early in the morning and rush off to work.
In my perfect world, everyone would agree with me and voluntarily get vaccinated against the gamut of nasty diseases for which we have vaccines, including Covid-19.
What are the best methods for increasing vaccination? How can we explore and enact a philosophy of education that speaks to the care and collective responsibility demanded by the pandemic?
Education in the time of Covid-19 should not only amplify themes like collective responsibility in physical distancing, masking and washing hands.
Such education demands that we address how people are responding to the pandemic’s scientific research, self-care and care for others.
As our country battles the adverse effect of Covid-19, the possibility of the fourth wave and Omicron variant we should never drop our guard.
During the festive season, when families get together and people travel from one province to another, how do we deal with the debacle once more?
As the anti-covid-19 fight progresses, we should never let our guard down by failing to adhere to the Covid-19 prevention advisories designed to interrupt the transmission, reduce ill health and deaths from the dreaded disease.
The strict adherence to the anticovid-19 protocols, particularly the use of masks, regular hand washing and use of sanitisers as well physical distancing should be everyone’s everyday mantra.
The use of personal protective equipment is the most important measures against exposure control.
Most recently, at an office event that my company recently held, we decided to test all those attending as well as the service providers.
It was interesting, comforting and heart-warming to timeously discover a few positive cases and isolate them from the group. I dread to think what would have happened if we had not.
This goes to show, even an innocent office event like that can have terrible repercussions during the pandemic crisis. The coronavirus pandemic remains a global crisis and only when simple but necessary precautions are taken will there be an assurance that the curve will bend.
Let us continue to urge our people to take the necessary precautions against the plague, by being observant, keeping away from crowds and adhering to regular hygiene practices. If we remain vigilant, we will stay safe and live better.
Don’t let the Omicron variant and Covid fatigue prevent you from keeping yourself and others safe. Vaccinate. As rational beings, we must use our powers of reason to promote our health, wealth, and happiness through vaccination.
Dr Anna Mokgokong is chairman of AfroCentric Health Group, and Community Investment Holdings. – IOL