Debate on compulsory COVID-19 vaccine rages on

Archbishop Thomas Msusa receiving his COVID-19 jab
  • MP proposes extension to public servants

Despite Malawi situation registering a downward trend in COVID-19 infections, Chiradzulu west Member of Parliament Dr. Mathews Ngwale is advocating for mandatory testing of officers in the country’s public service.

In an interview with Kulinji.com, the legislator who has a doctor of philosophy in health sciences and worked as senior lecturer in research methods and statistics at the Kamuzu College of Nursing, described  Malawi’s Coronavirus situation as fluid hence called on the need to be vigilant.

He noted that for some time now since the onset of summer, there have been few new cases and deaths making people to relax and throw caution to the wind which he said is unfortunate.

Ngwale attributed the strides made in the reduction of COVID-19 related deaths and infections to God’s intervention but bemoaned the lack of seriousness from health authorities.

According to him, the country’s security agencies such as the Malawi Police service and Malawi defence force should have undergone mandatory vaccination like Zimbabwe which included its armed forces in its drive which Malawi could learn from.

“By now, we should have been vaccinating our soldiers by compulsory to say, all soldiers should vaccinate; those soldiers that don’t want to vaccinate should leave the army. All police officers should vaccinate, all civil servants should vaccinate, all school teachers should vaccinate, all members of parliament should and must vaccinate. Then we are serious.

Ngwale
Ngwale: By now, we should have been vaccinating our soldiers by compulsory

“When we turn around and start talking to the population to say all Malawians should vaccinate, they would take us seriously; but we tell people go and vaccinate any yet we haven’t shown political will to do it. So people are questioning and saying why should I vaccinate? Why are they insisting that I should vaccinate because they haven’t heard the government vaccinating,” he observed.

The legislator who is also Chairperson of Parliamentary Health Committee stated that the current approach whereby one is free to get the jab or not, has led to low vaccine uptake in the country.

He pointed out that Malawi must takes cognizance of the severity of the disease and bemoaned the complacent mode towards the disease as the country is part of the global world hence needs to be serious in its response.

Ngwale disclosed that he was recently in Tanzania where Malawi is in the category of red list countries there and he was detained at the airport to vaccinate again.

“Despite carrying my certificate, I was detained at the airport to do a vaccination there and I had to pay $10. That’s the situation, and I was told that even in Lagos some members were sent back to their countries because they came from the red list and if you come from the red list, you’re being sent back; this is the beginning of things. So some people here in Malawi very shortly will see that they will go to a certain country and be sent back at the airport because we haven’t vaccinated enough that’s the reason”

vaccines
Vaccines captured on arrival in the country in this UNICEF file footage

Recently a person who travelled from Malawi to Israel tested positive to the new Omicron variant putting Malawi on the red list due to its low vaccine uptake.

Centre for Human Rights and Rehabilitation (CHRR) is on record to have said government’s silence on institutions requesting their employees to be vaccinated for them to go to work should make those affected to seek court redress.

CHRR Executive Director Micheal Kaiyatsa personally advised those affected to do so considering government’s non-committal position on the matter.

“So the silence or the lack of commitment from the government on this matter requires that people who are affected should simply go to court and let the court decide on this matter.

“You cannot force somebody to undertake or to receive vaccination against their will. I think we need to make it clear that is unacceptable, it’s inconsistent with human rights principles. Of course currently we are in a pandemic and everybody understands that and there is need for urgent measures. However, urgent measure in this case does include forcing people to get vaccinated”.

Kaiyatsa
Kaiyatsa: You cannot force somebody to undertake or to receive vaccination against their will

Realising the complexity of the issue, Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) is still consulting different and relevant stakeholders on the way forward.

Through the process, it intends to see how this can be managed from a human rights perspective and is yet to determine the timeframe on how long the consultation will last.

The Commission believes a tangible and realistic beneficial position for the enjoyment and protection of human rights for all will be realised.

Attorney General Thabo Chikaka Nyirenda is on record to have indicated that government is still consulting before coming up with a stand.

On Thursday this week, the Speaker of Parliament Catherine Gotani-Hara announced that legislators, contractors and the public have to produce a full valid vaccination certificate to access the main gate of the Parliament building and those unable to do so will be expected to get a COVID-19 jab for free.

Those unable to show a valid vaccination card and opt not to access the jab will be required to undergo a rapid antigen test on daily basis for the period of access to the premise without extension and at their own cost.