The SA Medical Association will not support any medical practitioner facing charges of disinformation about COVID-19 vaccines in the aftermath of Cape Town heart surgeon Dr Susan Vosloo’s anti-vaccination message that surfaced on the internet last week.
Daily Maverick reports SAMA chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee as saying the organisation was dismayed at reports that some healthcare workers — including doctors — have discouraged patients from getting COVID-19 vaccinations based on doubts about vaccine safety and effectiveness.
The organisation’s statement was released after a video in which Vosloo made various statements about COVID-19 vaccines.
Her claims, which were authoritatively debunked by Media Monitoring Africa, are likely to land her in hot water, with many organisations calling for steps to be taken against her, adds Daily Maverick.
The online video surfaced last week. In the first few minutes, Vosloo makes the startling claim that “the vaccine was not brought in for COVID, but that COVID was brought in for the vaccine”.
She adds numerous controversial views over how deadly the coronavirus is and how the pandemic is controlled by, among others, the media. She also makes a reference to “Vitamin I”, which is widely accepted as a reference to Ivermectin, and explains how it has been discredited.
She further made a number of claims about COVID-19 vaccines, including that they can have severe side effects and even be fatal.
Coetzee said SAMA would not support any medical practitioner facing charges for spreading fake information on the COVID-19 vaccine.
“We wholly reject any doubts about the COVID-19 vaccines. There is high confidence among the scientific and medical community about the effectiveness and safety of the vaccines being rolled out in South Africa, and they have also undergone safety and efficacy tests by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority. These are overwhelming endorsements of the vaccines, and there should be no doubt that every citizen must get them,” she said.
She added that the medical fraternity must be united in its commitment to ensuring wider access to the vaccines. This must include information campaigns spreading accurate, evidence-based information, dispelling any misinformation and overcoming vaccine hesitancy, which threatens the goal of achieving optimal vaccine coverage.
Vaccine hesitancy, said Coetzee, arises from a combination of ignorance, misinformation, conspiracy theories, doubt of scientific evidence, concerns relating to medical histories, and cultural, religious and philosophical beliefs.
“Vaccine hesitancy, however, should be condemned, and so should those who fuel it, particularly doctors, who should know better.
“We share concerns with global and local scientists — and I use that term purposefully — that unfounded objections to COVID-19 vaccines deepen the public health crisis caused by the pandemic,” she said.
The SAMA statement said medical professionals had an ethical duty “to practise medicine with conscience and dignity, in line with international best practice standards and evidence-based medical practice, and to serve humanity”.
“The societal benefits of vaccines have historically been proven over and over again, and that vaccines represent one of the most significant public health innovations to date, which have altered the trajectory of human health.
“It is important that South Africans realise the value of vaccines and that the countryʼs vaccine rate is rapidly increased from its current low of only six percent of the population, and for this reason, SAMA would continue to urge for greater global vaccine equity and continue to challenge intellectual and property restrictions which are impeding access to COVID-19 tests, treatments, and vaccines."
Coetzee added that doctors "have an obligation to protect our patients from COVID-19 and this includes encouraging vaccination".
"Encouraging vaccinations means, as medical doctors, we must impart accurate, science-based data, not personal views. This is the only way we afford patients the right to informed consent,” she said.
“SAMA will not support any of its members who spread misinformation about COVID-19 vaccines. SAMA does not condone unethical and illegal behaviour by its members and calls on the HPCSA [Health Professions Council of South Africa] to discipline medical professionals who breach their ethical duties by proliferating COVID-19 vaccine misinformation.”
Dr Blanche Cupido, president of the South African Heart Association, said they had noted the video and commentary by Vosloo “proclaiming her personal anti- vaccination beliefs around COVID-19”.
“Although Dr Vosloo is a well-respected cardiothoracic surgeon, her personal opinion is in direct contradiction to current evidence-based standards of care both locally and internationally.”
“SA Heart, representing the opinion of cardiovascular practitioners in South Africa, recognises and advocates for the use of vaccines in the prevention of severe COVID-19.
“There is clear scientific evidence for the use of vaccinations to reduce the risk of both hospitalisation and death in COVID-19 infections and with the benefit of vaccination far outweighing its risk,” she said.
She said both vaccines in use in South Africa, the Pfizer vaccine and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, worked and were safe, noted Daily Maverick.
“Mild side effects are common with all SARS-CoV-2 vaccines and reflect the immune system being stimulated by the vaccine. Severe side effects have also been reported in a transparent manner during the trials and during programmatic use, but are exceptionally rare. The overwhelming benefits of vaccination in terms of preventing death from COVID-19 far outweigh the risks of these rare severe side effects.
“As a body, we therefore recommend the use of vaccination for COVID-19 and would encourage all citizens, especially those with comorbidities like heart disease, to register for vaccination.”
Daily Maverick said Jacques du Plessis, the managing director of Netcare’s Hospital Division, expressed the hospital group’s “profound disappointment and disbelief in learning about the video”. Vosloo practises from the Christiaan Barnard Memorial Hospital in Cape Town.
“The sentiments as expressed in the contents of the video are in complete contradiction to the unrelenting endeavours of Netcare, our clinical colleagues, healthcare workers and others to try to curb the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Du Plessis.
“The video further contradicts the views and endeavours of the South African National Department of Health as well as those of global institutions such as the World Health Organization.
“Given the grave implications of the comments made by Dr Vosloo and the potential deleterious impact on both national and global efforts to curb COVID-19, Netcare completely dissociates itself from her anti-vaccination message.
“Nevertheless, we have full regard for the fact that as a medical professional, Dr Vosloo is an independent practitioner and that as an individual she is fully entitled to her own views,” he said.
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