Public interest law centre SECTION27 is intervening in the case of African Christian Democratic Party (ACDP) v Minister of the National Department of Health Dr Joe Phaahla, as a friend of the High Court to provide evidence that stopping the vaccination of adolescents will negatively impact children’s rights to basic education and health.
The ACDP organisations Free the Children – Save the Nation, Caring Healthcare Workers Coalition and COVID Care Alliance are seeking an urgent interdict to stop the rollout of Covid-19 vaccines for adolescents between the ages of 12 and 17.
SECTION27 argues that Covid-19 has resulted in significant loss of learning time owing to school closures and rotational timetables and that vaccinations are crucial to end this.
It says the ACDP fails to consider the grave socioeconomic context that schools and learners are subjected to currently.
Privileged schools have the capabilities of digital learning while poorer learners don’t have access to devices, data, or even sufficient printed materials to facilitate learning from home effectively.
“In their papers, the ACDP makes claims that there is ‘no good reason whatsoever to vaccinate children.’ They claim that 80% of the South Africans have had Covid-19, suggesting that ‘we are approaching herd immunity’ which according to them, is why infection rates in South Africa are declining. However, the opposite is true. President Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that South Africa is entering a fourth wave with a surge of infections notable across the country,” SECTION27 said.
South Africa and other countries are grappling with the emergence of the Omicron variant and rising infection rates.
SECTION27 says even with the reopening of schools, the rotational timetabling systems, where learners "take turns" attending school on different days, have resulted in significant and potentially sustained learning losses for South Africa’s learners.
SECTION27 attorney Zeenat Sujee argues that the use of rotational timetables to ensure social distancing at schools is not a sustainable or effective measure because of the state of overcrowding in the majority of public schools.
“Vaccines are safe, passing all the testing measures done for any other medicines. The risks of vaccination are much lower than the risks of Covid-19. The ability of adolescents to get vaccinated will help alleviate the strain on the schooling and healthcare systems, and promote learners’ rights to basic education, health, equality and dignity,“ explains Sujee.
SECTION27 will argue that Covid-19 school closures negatively impact learners’ mental health and educational attainment.
They also cite an increase in learner dropouts, as well as in teenage pregnancies and abortions.
“The SECTION27 intervention intends to highlight the substantial teaching and learning challenges posed by the current conditions of schooling, and the crucial role schools play in offering socioeconomic safety nets for learners – it is therefore imperative that learners are able to get back to daily learning as quickly as possible. This necessitates continuing the vaccination of adolescents,” it said.