The University of the Free State has decided to drop it’s mandatory vaccination policy. (Getty)
- The University of the Free State has dropped its mandatory vaccination policy.
- The institution says, after an assessment, it has realised that the risk of infection on campus is low.
- The university says if the situation changes, it may adopt the policy again.
After holding onto its mandatory Covid-19 vaccination policy for a while, the University of the Free State (UFS) has decided to drop it.
When the government lifted Covid-19 restrictions, UFS stuck to its policy of only allowing vaccinated people on campus, to the ire of union Solidarity.
In January, the union took the university to court to challenge the policy, which it deemed unconstitutional.
On Tuesday, UFS rector and vice-chancellor Professor Francis Petersen said the institution did a risk assessment before dropping the policy. “From the assessment, it was clear that the university’s Covid-19 infections are currently a low risk.”
Petersen said some of the reasons for dropping the policy included the high rate of vaccination and no new reported cases of Covid-19 in the university community in the past month.
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He said the continuation of hybrid learning was also helping to minimise the risk on campus.
“We believe that Covid-19 no longer poses an immediate threat to the safety of our staff and students, and that the pandemic is at a stage where they should take responsibility for their own safety. This can be mainly ascribed to the success of the implementation of the policy,” said Petersen.
Staff and students who still wish to wear masks are urged to do so at their own discretion. Those who have not yet been vaccinated against the virus and have no known condition preventing them from doing so are advised to get vaccinated for their own safety and protection.
He said the vaccination policy could be reintroduced if there was a need.
“If the national regulatory environment with respect to Covid-19 is changing to such an extent that the policy needs to be reimplemented, the university’s executive management will act accordingly, and hence the Covid-19 Regulations and Required Vaccination Policy remains a policy of the university…,” Petersen said.
Morné Malan, Solidarity’s head of communications, said the UFS policy restricted staff and students’ constitutional rights.
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“The university’s policy has indeed managed to restrict constitutional rights. Although it is a good thing that this draconian policy has now been lifted, the fact that it was only brought about because the university was threatened with a cost order in litigation and not because it acted as a proponent for the rights of students and staff, will remain an embarrassing blemish on UFS’ name,” Malan said.
He said it was disappointing that the university had resisted dropping the policy.
“When the Covid-19 regulations were lifted at national level, but the UFS carried on with restrictions on its campus, it was clear that the university was committed to restricting the constitutional rights of students and staff without any clear rationale,” he added.