“No one is safe, unless everyone is safe” – appeal for vaccine solidarity

“In the first wave you applauded us.

In the second wave you sympathised with us.

In the third wave you ignored us.

In the fourth wave we gave up.

We’ve fought a disease half the world doesn’t believe in. We’ve fought the despair of watching you slowly die, powerless to intervene. We’ve fought the waves of disinformation, the ignorance, and the arrogance. We’ve fought for you. We’ve fought for our families. We’ve fought for us. We don’t have much fight left in us.

We are exhausted and we need your help. Get vaccinated. Prevent the fourth wave.”

 

This impassioned plea by a frontline clinician echoes the voices of staff in the Covid-19 ICU at Tygerberg Hospital and forms the thrust of a vaccination rally by Stellenbosch University’s (SU) Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences (FMHS). The rally calls for all South Africans, and the healthcare community in particular, to join the fight against Covid-19 by getting vaccinated and encouraging family, friends and colleagues to do the same.

With the rallying call ‘No one is safe, unless everyone is safe’, the chorus of voices supporting the rally ranges from the FMHS leadership to its student body.

A poignant reminder by Dr Therese Fish, Vice Dean: Clinical Services and Social Impact, stresses the plight of healthcare workers since the start of the pandemic and the need to support them: “They have lost many of their colleagues and so many more were affected by becoming ill, while many have suffered mentally. They work tirelessly to help save our family, friends, colleagues and neighbours.”

Stressing the need to urgently reduce the burden on hospitals, Dr Paul Ciapparelli, Director of Clinical Services at Tygerberg Hospital, points to the proven effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines in preventing severe disease, hospitalisation, and therefore the need for ICU-level care.

“Vaccination will help to reduce the Covid-19 load and enables us to provide more care to our entire patient constituency. I urge all our staff at Tygerberg, as well as the general public, to please get vaccinated without delay – it’s by far our best weapon against the pandemic.”

Leading the FMHS chorus is the Dean, Prof Jimmy Volmink: “We urgently call upon all South Africans to whole-heartedly embrace all evidence-based measures that will decrease transmission of the Covid-19 virus, and reduce the risk of serious disease, hospitalisation and death. Covid-19 vaccination offers us the best hope of overcoming the current threat to our lives and livelihoods. Please do the responsible thing and get the shot!” 

Prof Soraya Seedat, executive head of the FMHS Department of Psychiatry, urges colleagues and students in the health care community to join forces for vaccine solidarity. “Together we are stronger catalysts to increase vaccination momentum and ‘normalise’ vaccination in our work spaces and beyond. As a health sciences faculty we should be at the forefront of increasing vaccination rates on campus, among staff and patients at the hospitals and clinics that we serve, and in our wider community.” 

Prof Wolfgang Preiser, head of the FMHS Division of Medical Virology, dispels fears around the safety and efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines. “People are sceptical about the speed at which the Covid-19 vaccine was developed, but in truth it was based on decades of rigorous scientific research into vaccine development efforts for other diseases. Since its development, hundreds of millions of Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered globally, revealing an excellent safety profile and very good protective effect against severe and possibly fatal disease.”

He adds that he personally knows dozens of people who had severe Covid-19 and at least 20 who died from it – “and hundreds who had the vaccine with nothing more than perhaps a day or two of feeling a bit off”.

“Do it for yourself (first and foremost) but also for your family, friends, colleagues and others. You probably deplore the effects of the pandemic on the economy, on school-age kids and much more (as you should). The key to society going back to (almost) normal is in your own hands: You and everyone else must get the vaccine. No more excuses – go for it, and go now!”

Adding his scientific opinion, Dr Jantjie Taljaard, head of the FMHS Division of Infectious Diseases, sympathises with the public’s uncertainty about the vaccine – particularly with the deluge of conflicting information going round – but implores people to look at the bigger picture.

“We are 18 months into a pandemic that has impacted every fibre of society, not only affecting our health, but destroying households and economies, not sparing anyone. And the end is not in sight yet…”

He explains that there are two proven strategies to mitigate the impact: the first is non-pharmacological measures such as lockdowns; and the second is vaccination. “The first is effective but not sustainable and has a profound impact on livelihoods, industries, mental health, and education. Vaccinations, on the other hand, are now proven to be safe and effective in preventing hospitalisation and death due to Covid-19 and considerably decrease the chances of getting Covid-19.

“This is by no means the final answer, but is indeed a massive breakthrough in addressing the many evils of the pandemic. If you want to contribute to ending the scourge of the pandemic, get vaccinated and assist your family and friends to get vaccinated.”

Medical ethicist and director of the Centre for Medical Ethics and Law, Prof Keymanthri Moodley, highlights individual and social responsibility in the pandemic.

“We owe it to ourselves, our families, our colleagues and our patients to vaccinate, mask and be safe. A public health ethics approach based on collective responsibility and solidarity is critical to save lives, revive the economy and end the pandemic.”

Advocating for public health solidarity, Profs Taryn Young and Portia Jordan, reiterate that citizens of South Africa have a social responsibility to ensure that no harm is done to others.

“We are all affected by Covid-19. No one is spared and through collective action we can make a difference,” says Young, who is the executive head of the FMHS Department of Global Health. “We have safely been vaccinating for measles, rubella, polio, mumps, and many other diseases, and now we have to unite and do it again to reduce the impact of Covid-19.”

She is supported by Jordan, head of the FMHS Department of Nursing and Midwifery: “We need to actively advocate for vaccination, and encourage communities, family members and colleagues to take the vaccine. Do the right thing: vaccinate today and only share truthful messages about the safety and benefits of being vaccinated.”

Representing the Tygerberg student community, fourth-year medical student Jessica Davies urges her fellow-students to get vaccinated, since all of them interact with patients in some way or another or are in close contact with other students who do.

“If we want to be responsible health care practitioners and model the behaviour we wish to see in our patients, our friends and our families, we need to be the first to set the example and get vaccinated. In order to ensure all patients receive the best care, and the system is not over-burdened, we need vaccinated health care workers, as well as vaccinated patients.”

In a final powerful message, Dr Fish expresses yearning for a return to close human contact and the need for vaccination to achieve that.

“As health care professionals we have supported vaccination for centuries. We have all been vaccinated, our children all get vaccinated, and we know vaccines work. I encourage everyone – health care workers, our families, our community and religious leaders to stand together on this issue. Our country needs it.

“I yearn for the days when we can hug each other, and that will only happen when we are all vaccinated.”

 

 

The following FMHS and Tygerberg Hospital staff members have added their support to the statement as signatories:

Prof Jimmy Volmink

Dean

Dr Therese Fish

Vice Dean: Clinical Services and Social Impact​​

Prof Nico Gey van Pittius

Vice Dean: Research and Internationalisation

Prof Susan van Schalkwyk

Acting Vice Dean: Learning and Teaching

Mr Eben Mouton

Senior Director: Business Management

Dr Matodzi Mukosi

Tygerberg Hospital CEO

Dr Paul Ciaparelli

Tygerberg Hospital Director: Clinical Services

Dr Andre Muller

Tygerberg Hospital Manager: Medical Services

Dr Granville Marinus

Tygerberg Hospital Manager: Medical Services

Dr Kurt Maart

Tygerberg Hospital Manager: Medical Services

Dr Roshni Mistry

Tygerberg Hospital Manager: Medical Services

Dr Simon Moeti

Tygerberg Hospital Manager: Medical Services

Prof Sean Chetty

Executive Head: Department of Anaesthesiology & Critical care

Prof Gerhard Walzl

Executive Head: Department of Biomedical Sciences

Prof Karin Baatjes

Head: Division of Clinical Anatomy

Prof Hans Strijdom

Head: Division of Medical Physiology

Dr Elize Archer

Acting Head: Centre for Health Professions Education

Prof Bob Mash

Executive Head: Department of Family Medicine & Emergency Care

Prof Heike Geduld

Head: Division of Emergency Medicine

Prof Taryn Young

Executive Head: Department of Global Health

Prof Rene English

Head: Division of Health Systems & Public Health

Prof Xikombiso Mbhenyane

Head: Division of Human Nutrition

Prof Vikash Sewram

Director: African Cancer Institute

Prof Gubela Mji

Director: Centre for Disability & ​Rehabilitation Studies​

Prof Kathryn Chu

Director: Centre for Global Surgery

Prof Sarah Skeen

Co-director: ​Institute for Life Course Health Research

Prof Mark Tomlinson

Co-director: ​Institute for Life Course Health Research

Prof Ian Couper

Director: Ukwanda Centre for Rural Health

Prof Quinette Louw

Executive Head: Department of Rehabilitation Sciences

Prof Conran Joseph

Head: Division of Physiotherapy

Prof Nicola Plastow

Head: Division of Occupational Therapy

Ms Gouwa Dawood

Head: Division of Speech-Language and Hearing Therapy

Prof Richard Pitcher

Executive Head: Department of Medical Imaging and Clinical Oncology

Prof James Warwick

Head: Division of Nuclear Medicine

Prof Hannah Simonds

Head: Division of Radiation Oncology

Dr Chris Trauernicht

Head: Division of Medical Physics

Prof John Akudugu

Head: Division of Radiobiology

Prof Helmuth Reuter

Executive Head: Department of Medicine

Prof Keymanthri Moodley

Director: Centre Medical Ethics & Law

Dr Neshaad Schreuder

Head: Division of General Internal Medicine

Dr Willie Visser

Head: Division of Dermatology

Dr Ankia Coetzee

Division of Endocrinology

Dr F Bassa

Head: Division of Haematology

Dr Jantjie Taljaard

Head: Division of Infectious Diseases

Prof Anton Doubell

Head: Division of Cardiology

Prof Razeen Davids

Head: Division of Nephrology

Prof Jonathan Carr

Head: Division of Neurology

Prof Elvis Irusen

Head: Division of Pulmonology

Dr Riette du Toit

Head: Division of Rheumatology

Prof Portia Jordan

Executive Head: Department of Nursing & Midwifery

Prof Hennie Botha

Executive Head: Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology

Prof Mariana Kruger

Executive Head: Department of Paediatrics & Child Health

Prof Anneke Hesseling

Director: Desmond Tutu TB Centre

Prof Mark Cotton

Director: Family Clinical Research Unit (FAMCRU)​

Prof Andrew Whitelaw

Executive Head: Department of Pathology

Prof Johan Schneider

Head: Division of Anatomical Pathology

Dr J Verster

Head: Division of Forensic Medicine

Dr Zivanai C. Chapanduka

Head: Division of Haematological Pathology

Prof Wolfgang Preiser

Head: Division of Medical Virology

Prof Soraya Seedat

Executive Head: Department of Psychiatry

Prof Heinrich Grobelaar

Executive Head: Department of Sport Sciences

Prof Elmin Steyn

Executive Head: Department of Surgical Sciences

Prof Jacques Janson

Head: Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery

Prof Ian Vlok

Head: Division of Neurosurgery

Prof Linda Visser

Head: Division of Ophthalmology

Prof James Loock

Head: Division of Otorhinolaryngology

Prof Jacques du Toit

Head: Division of Orthopaedic

Prof Wayne Derman

Director: Institute of Sport and Exercise Medi​​cine (ISEM)

Dr Alex Zuhlke

Acting head: Division of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery

Prof B Banieghbal

Head: Division of Paediatric Surgery

Prof Andre Van der Merwe

Head: Division of Urology

 

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