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Health-care workers clamouring to get Covid-19 vaccination urged to remain calm

'Teething problems' around health-care workers enrolling on electronic vaccine data system cause a rush on inoculation sites

Graeme Hosken Senior reporter
A nurse at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town gets her Covid vaccine jab. President Cyril Ramphosa got his there too. File photo.
A nurse at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town gets her Covid vaccine jab. President Cyril Ramphosa got his there too. File photo.
Image: Esa Alexander

Senior health experts driving SA's biggest inoculation programme have called for calm among health-care workers who fear missing out on the Covid-19 vaccine, saying that all of them will be helped.

Chaos erupted at Steve Biko Academic Hospital — one of the country’s Covid-19 vaccination sites — on Sunday when hundreds of health-care workers who had battled to register on an electronic vaccine data system descended on the site.

This saw many who had successfully registered on the system unable to get their jab and being turned away.

Last week the health department began rolling out its vaccination programme. The first phase, set to end in April, will see health-care workers inoculated with the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine.

To date the vaccine has the highest efficacy rate against the Covid-19 variant circulating in SA.

The first 80,000 doses of the J&J vaccine arrived in the country on Wednesday.

Fear that not all health-care workers would be vaccinated was driven by news that in order for SA to secure its next J&J batch, the current batch had to be used within two weeks.

Prof Glenda Gray, co-principal investigator of the J&J vaccine trial, said that while health-care workers had fallen through the cracks, the weekend inoculation process was successful.

“At Steve Biko [Academic Hospital] we vaccinated 1,020 people. In total on Sunday we vaccinated more than 5,000 which is an enormous achievement. Our daily inoculation target is 6,600 people.

“We were very close to that and the day was a success.”

She said that every hour they were making improvements to their systems.

“The vaccine programme is not even five days old and there will be teething problems. The thing about problems is that you must find solutions, which is what we are doing really well.”

Gray said they understood that people were anxious.

“That anxiety is driven by demand, but we see that as a positive thing. Once everything settles down and we find a good rhythm, with the electronic vaccine data system kicking it, then everything will become a lot smoother.”

She said the panic and chaos at Steve Biko Academic Hospital had occurred because health-care workers who had battled to register on the electronic system descended on the site seeking help.

“Sometimes electronic data systems are hard to navigate. Not everyone is good at electronic stuff and people then get anxious. That’s what happened on Sunday when many rushed to the site to seek help in getting enrolled.”

She said while many people just saw problems, “what we saw was an unfolding miracle”.

“Yes, people had to queue, but they will not always have to. The system is slowly improving as the teething issues are resolved. We are committed to making this a success, which is driven by our team who include volunteers who answered government’s call for help in vaccinating people.”

Gray said because of the high demand for vaccines they were ramping up the training of vaccinators.

“To vaccinate 40 million South Africans you need collaboration and support. That’s why the government called for volunteers to help it in its inoculation endeavours.”

She said they were appealing to health-care workers to remain calm.

“You will be able to register on the system and you will get vaccinated. So far 15,000 people have been vaccinated with thousands more in line to receive the vaccines. Those who were registered but missed out on their inoculation will get another SMS notifying them of where and when to come to their allocated site.

“People must not panic. As far as we are concerned it is all systems go. There are more batches of J&J doses earmarked for delivery. Within 14 days we have to use up the doses we have. Every 14 days we will receive another 80,000 doses.

“We will soon be opening more vaccine sites to make the inoculation process easier and so as not to overwhelm the systems and the people that we have in place.”


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