“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|
|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|
*Click here to read a statement issued by the South African Committee of Medical Deans on the recommendation of compulsory COVID-19 vaccination for all health sciences students and healthcare workers.