Minster of Higher Education, Science and Technology Dr Blade Nzimande has maintained that higher education institutions will reopen based on clear protocols and guidelines. He said the department was committed to capacity building and training that would enable the continued protection of students and staff.
Dr Nzimande delivered the keynote address at a webinar hosted by Higher Health, a national agency that works on behalf of the Department of Higher Education and Training (DHET) to promote the health and wellbeing of students across South Africa’s public universities and Technical and Vocational Education Training colleges (TVETs).
The webinar, held on Wednesday, 27 January 2021, saw over 800 participants in attendance and showcased the latest developments in managing the COVID-19 second wave within the Post-school Education and Training (PSET) sector and on new scientific advancements, including the national vaccination program.
Dr Nzimande said he was confident that the PSET sector was in a far better position to face the COVID-19 now, thanks to the dedicated leadership of all key stakeholders. In particular, Higher Health was mandated in March 2020 by the Department to ensure that they work with every public university and TVET college within the PSET sector to deal with COVID-19.
As such Higher Health have formulated a PSET strategy which includes Post School Education and Training Guidelines on COVID-19; COVID-19 Communication Campaign; and Training and Capacity Development Workshop for All Higher Education Health Care Workers and Staff on COVID-19.
”This strategy will help to ensure access to vaccination for our students and staff with priority in the first phase being our frontline campus healthcare staff and Health Sciences students, especially those in the nursing and medical disciplines,” said Dr Nzimande.
In sync with the Department of Health’s National Vaccine approach, the PSET vaccination strategy will develop a phased roadmap towards vaccination of all frontline and essential staff, students and staff volunteers particularly those living with comorbidities.
Clinical virologist Professor Tim Tucker called for social solidarity, adding that we should become ‘vaccine advocates.’ “It is an absolute miracle that within 12 months of this virus being discovered that we have a set of vaccines that have been discovered, manufactured, and tested and are now available for large scale usage.”
Prof Tucker further elaborated, citing Polio and Smallpox as historical examples of the importance and successful impact of vaccines.
“Since the 1900s around 300 million people have died of Smallpox but now through vaccination, Smallpox no longer exists in the world. Vaccination is the most cost effective medical intervention in the history of medicine. They cost relatively little, they control disease, and they have very few side effects.”
Dr Kerrigan McCarthy, representing the National Institute of Communicable Diseases (NICD), echoed the call for vaccine support. She, however, warned that a vaccine alone would not be enough. It would require societal change.
“We need to make the virus as inhospitable and unwelcome in our communities as possible. We do that by remembering and practicing the Three C’s. That is avoiding: crowded places, closed spaces and close-contact settings,” she added.