Repository logo

An exploratory study of vaccinations amongst staff at a South African research institution: personal choice or mandatory?

Thumbnail Image



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



Controversies related to immunisation have existed since 1840. The focus of much discussion has been on the efficacy of vaccination in protecting public health and safety, as well as the question of vaccine mandates infringing upon individual freedoms. The COVID-19 pandemic, declared by the World Health Organization on March 11, 2020, reignited these debates. In South Africa, under Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act No 57 of 2002, the Minister of Employment and Labour is authorised to issue directives linked to the country’s state of disaster. As a result, the COVID-19 Occupational Health and Safety Measures in Workplaces directive (C19 OHS) (Department of Employment and Labour, 2020) was issued by the Minister of Employment and Labour in terms of regulation 10(8) issued by the Minister of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs in terms of Section 27(2) of the Disaster Management Act No 57 of 2002 (Republic of South Africa, 2002). The objective of the directive was to implement occupational health and safety measures in the workplace to stop the spread of the COVID-19 virus and to provide guidance to employers on how to deal with COVID-19 in the workplace. Consequently, this brought to light the need to tackle the dilemma of individual versus collective rights in the context of vaccine mandates in the workplace. The study aimed to explore participants' knowledge and understanding of ethical, human rights, and legal aspects of vaccination. It also sought to understand whether participants believe vaccines should be a personal choice or mandatory, as well as their experiences with COVID-19 vaccination in the workplace. This study used a qualitative methodology approach, conducting 20 semi-structured, in-depth, open-ended individual interviews that took place either face-to-face or virtually. The study sample comprised of staff members from a South African research institution, across three provinces. The interview data were transcribed and then loaded onto Atlas. ti software for coding, using the thematic analysis approach. This social science study employs an interdisciplinary approach that considers the human rights, ethics, and legal aspects in the workplace setting concerning mandatory vaccination policies. The research aimed to provide valuable insights from participants in this study concerning the multifaceted interactions between human rights law, bioethics, and the social dynamics of mandatory vaccination policies. The research also utilises the social constructionist framework as a conceptual model to examine and understand how individuals have shaped their perceptions regarding personal freedoms, the mandatory nature of vaccination, trust in vaccine role players, experiences with COVID-19 in the workplace, and the factors influencing their beliefs. This conceptual approach is used to analyse and interpret participants' viewpoints but does not dictate the entire study. The study indicates that most participants are in favour of personal choice. These findings imply that, for these participants, individual choice in medical freedoms is paramount in healthcare decision-making, including vaccination. Recommendations are made for the South African government, vaccination policymakers, employers, and for future research.


Masters Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Pietermaritzburg.