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A pop-up vaccination site is shown at Madeira Shopping Centre in Danville, Tshwane. File photo: THULANI MBELE
A pop-up vaccination site is shown at Madeira Shopping Centre in Danville, Tshwane. File photo: THULANI MBELE

The science could barely be clearer: vaccination is humanity’s best defence against Covid-19. In a country like SA, with so many immune-compromised and vulnerable people, taking the opportunity to be vaccinated should be common sense, and yet hesitancy and procrastination are rife. 

Vaccine sceptics, naysayers and deliberately false information are also putting more lives at risk. As we find ourselves with infection rates again rising in many countries, we must call an end to these dangers and move towards introducing Covid-19 vaccination as a requirement in the workplace.

Anglo American’s WeCare programme, put in place early in 2020, has gone a long way to addressing the worst effects of the pandemic for our employees and host communities, in terms of protecting physical and mental health and the livelihoods of all those who rely on us in our own business and beyond the mine gate.

For many months we have strongly encouraged everyone to get vaccinated at the earliest opportunity. And we make it easy — we provide vaccinations to employees and their dependants in SA. Now we are starting to engage our workforce as we intend to introduce a requirement of full vaccination for anyone wanting to enter one of our sites or offices in SA and around the world.

Anglo American is committed to supporting vaccination because of the vital role it plays in mitigating the impacts of Covid-19. A vaccinated person is far less likely to transmit the virus than an unvaccinated person. In fact, the World Health Organisation (WHO) stated recently that a fully vaccinated person is 40% less likely to transmit Covid-19.

Variants of a virus occur when that virus has the opportunity to mutate multiple times. But science tells us that in a highly vaccinated population fewer mutations will occur. It is one reason Anglo American has invested so much in supporting government vaccination programmes and, in SA, developing vaccine infrastructure so that each employee who wants a vaccine can access it in a way that is safe, localised and dependable.

Yes, it is possible to become infected with Covid-19 even if you are fully vaccinated, but you’re much more likely to be shielded from hospitalisation and death, and you are far less likely to transmit it to others. The effect here is not just personal — it is inherently communal: my individual health choice either reduces or increases the burden on the country’s health system; it either drives transmission or reduces it; it either takes us forward into a post-Covid-19 world or keeps us locked into a cycle of uncertainty and fear.

A fully vaccinated person who is infected by Covid-19 can recover from the virus within as little as four days — considerably shorter than an unvaccinated person. This is a lifeline, especially for those whose immune systems are already weakened, for example those who live with HIV/Aids across Southern Africa.

Behavioural science suggests that people react to threats to their health with fear, panic or sometimes by just not responding at all. Covid-19 has posed a frightening threat to how we live our everyday lives, and to our health. In response, scientists worked tirelessly to develop vaccines that are designed to protect every person on this planet. The virus is not only about you; it’s about every human being. One person can infect multiple people within minutes if they are infected with Covid-19 and are not vaccinated.

We are doing whatever we can to encourage and support vaccination uptake among our employees and in the communities around our operations. Our robust workplace vaccination programme has sought to provide the facts and dispel the myths about vaccinations. We have a duty to maintain a healthy and safe workplace and we cannot allow the few to endanger the many. We have been open with our employees about the need to keep all options on the table as the pandemic evolves, and this now includes our intention to require full vaccination against Covid-19 for access to our sites and offices.

The transmission of Covid-19 will decrease over time only if our vaccination rates improve markedly, which is why we implore everyone to get vaccinated, and to do so without further delay. The approved vaccines are safe, severe side effects are extremely rare, and they protect us all from the worst effects of Covid-19.

Vaccination is nothing new. Less than 1% of humanity has been allergic to any vaccine since their inception against numerous diseases more than 200 years ago. Our responsibility is to the overwhelming majority. Vaccines have been a lifeline against many diseases over the past century. Through them, we have managed to eliminate or substantially reduce debilitating conditions such as tuberculosis, smallpox, polio, measles, mumps and rubella.

We can achieve the same with Covid-19, but everyone must get on board and get vaccinated, now.         

• Dr Dorkin is head of health at Anglo American.

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