Covid-19 vaccines for health staff on track

Sisonke implementation study gives almost 250,000 health workers their jabs

Claire Keeton Senior features writer
Glenda Gray, left, and Linda-Gail Bekker carrying the first dose of vaccine through Khayelitsha Hospital for the Sisonke implementation study.
Glenda Gray, left, and Linda-Gail Bekker carrying the first dose of vaccine through Khayelitsha Hospital for the Sisonke implementation study.
Image: File photo

SA is expecting its final batch of 200,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine for the Sisonke study in the next two weeks said Prof Glenda Gray, co-principal investigator of the study, delivering the shots to health-care workers.

Prof Linda-Gail Bekker, co-principal investigator of the study, said: “By the end of the week we should have a quarter of a million arms done.”

The study aims to vaccinate half a million health-care workers, out of an estimated 1.5 million in SA, by the end of April. The national vaccine rollout programme is expected to pick up where Sisonke leaves off.

Everything has been bang on schedule.
Prof Linda-Gail Bekker

Bekker said of their vaccinations in the study: “Everything has been bang on schedule. We are not the national rollout. We are a small [research] team making this happen and I feel upbeat about how people have rallied around to make it happen.

“They have been working long hours as they are still running their day jobs. Pharmacists have been working into the weekends.”

The study vaccinations have been an extraordinary demonstration of public-private partnerships and hopefully this will be the consolidated during the rollout, she said.

For example, commercial pharmacists, independent practitioners, hospitals, research groups and provincial officials have worked together.

Gray said hospital staff had gone out of their way to accelerate vaccine delivery, supporting the vaccine sites work on top of their day jobs.

Health-care workers are being bussed into hospital vaccination sites, like Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, where staff are giving jabs to up to 2,000 people at time without them waiting in queues, said Gray.

“Baragwanath is welcoming health-care workers from all over the Vaal region,” said Gray, who went to OR Tambo International Airport on Friday morning to pick up the penultimate batch of 40,000 J&J vials for Sisonke.

“It is exciting to see them being bussed in from the west rand and south rand. [On Thursday] health-care workers from Harmony Gold Mines got vaccinated.”

In the rural Eastern Cape and KwaZulu-Natal, mobile vaccine units were likely to be deployed to reach health-care workers, as has been done in the Northern Cape.

“We are looking at mobile units to go around and mop up those areas towards the end of the programme,” said Gray.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize last week released details of the national rollout plan, which aims to inoculate up to 200,000 people a day.

The rollout is due to start mid-May and 2.8 million J&J vaccine doses have been ordered for the programme, he said.

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