KZN health dept denies claims that private doctors have been blocked from getting vaccinated

21 February 2021 - 15:27
By Suthentira Govender
The KwaZulu-Natal health department has denied that it has stopped or turned away general practitioners from getting the vaccine.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times The KwaZulu-Natal health department has denied that it has stopped or turned away general practitioners from getting the vaccine.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomgugu Simelane has dismissed claims that the department blocked or turned away private sector general practitioners from being vaccinated, accusing some of “peddling untruths”.

This comes as some general practitioners were notified by a doctors' platform, Vaccines for Health Workers, on Saturday that their vaccinations, scheduled for Sunday, had been cancelled due to circumstances “out of our control”.

Addressing a media briefing on Sunday, Simelane said the department had noted social media posts by “a number of general practitioners complaining that the department of health has stopped them from getting vaccinated and had to turn them away”.

“We are surprised that people who are held by society as esteemed as doctors, some of them would actually peddle untruths,” she said.

Simelane said the department had received 10,800 vaccines so far.

“The department of health at a national level indicated only on Friday that 30% of that has to go to the private sector, which means that the general practitioners who are in the catchment area are supposed to be the ones to be given 30% of the vaccines,” she said.

The catchment areas, Simelane said, included areas in and around the two current vaccine sites — Prince Mshiyani Hospital in Umlazi and the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Hospital in Bellair.

“Before that arrangement was properly made with the national department, some general practitioners from all over the province and not even in the catchment areas had decided to go to the two facilities and make appointments so that they could be vaccinated.

“We appreciate their enthusiasm, but we have to indicate to them that the vaccines that have been received are meant for health workers in that catchment area of Inkosi Albert and Prince Mshiyeni hospitals.

“So doctors, nurses, cleaners, everyone in those catchment areas will be vaccinated in keeping with the numbers of vaccines that have been given. That also includes the general practitioners in those catchment areas,” Simelane said.

She said the department met with organisations representing doctors on Friday and “they agreed that they will provide a list of general practitioners in the catchment areas who are going to be vaccinated”.

A follow-up meeting is expected to be held on Monday “so that things are done properly”, she said.

“We do need to be able to spread the vaccine around and we are trying to do in the fairest way possible. Everywhere we say is a vaccination centre, that centre becomes a catchment area for all health-care workers, including the private health-care workers,” she said.

A Durban doctor, who did not want to identified, said she had registered for a vaccination slot on Sunday and was “deeply upset” about the cancellation.

“The frustrating thing is that private practitioners, including general practitioners and specialists, in other provinces had already been vaccinated.

“We are all so upset about this delay. We are on the front line. In a hospital, you have all these layers before patients actually come to you. With general practitioners, anybody is walking through our doors.

“Everybody is feeling the same, there is anger and frustration. It's a psychological blow,” she said.

Another doctor told TimesLIVE: “Emotions are running very high because of the logistical delays and the fact that other provinces are rolling out vaccines fast and efficiently.”

Meanwhile, KwaZulu-Natal premier Sihle Zikalala said at the same briefing that 1,279 health workers had been vaccinated since Thursday.

“None of our health-care workers have suffered any complications since taking the vaccine. Instead, these troops, who are first line of defence against the virus, have reported a renewed sense of positivity, confidence and feeling more protected against Covid-19.

“This is a major psychological boost and a far cry from the fear and anxiety they have experienced while relying on nothing but non-pharmaceutical preventive measures.

“Since the launch of the vaccine we have vaccinated a total of 1,279 health workers. We do believe this is a good start. We would like to see these numbers increasing in view of the fact that Covid-19 infections and deaths have not yet stopped,” he said.

He said nearly 16,000 health-care workers in the public sector have been infected with Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. More than half (55%) were nurses.

Unfortunately, 835 had died from the virus.

Zikalala said the number of infections continued to decline in the province, but warned that it was not time to celebrate or be complacent.

“Covid-19 is still here, and it is deadly. There is the ever-looking threat of a third wave of infections that we need to guard against, especially as we approach the winter months.

“While the vaccine is being rolled in the province, in the form of an academic study, we are also taking into cognisance the utterances on social media and on radio to make it appear as if the Johnson and Johnson vaccine is not legitimate.

“In line with the established procedure the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority is unable to register and license these Johnson and Johnson vaccines before it is registered by the draft regulatory body in the vaccine's mother country which is the US.

“This process might take a few weeks which we cannot afford and wait for that process to happen.

“Because we are in a race against time, SA has made a decision to expedite access to the vaccine for health-care workers who are at risk of infection by using the only mechanism of using the vaccine at this point, which is now being rolled out through this phase,” he said.

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