WATCH | Confusion and no social distancing as health workers queue for Covid-19 vaccines
Chaotic scenes played out at some hospitals around the country on Thursday when hundreds of healthcare workers caused traffic jams and congregated to receive their Covid-19 vaccination.
The police had to turn away scores of people from at least one hospital who did not meet the criteria to be vaccinated against Covid-19 under the Sisonke Johnson & Johnson trial.
There has been an influx of people, fuelled by misleading information shared on social media, attempting to get the jab by “gaming the system” used to register.
At at least two hospital sites, “misinformation” was blamed for the chaos.
Video clips and photographs shared on social media showed no social distancing and a large number of healthcare workers gathered outside the premises at Durban's St Augustine's Hospital.
Netcare Hospitals MD Jacques du Plessis said misinformation led to the large gathering.
“At Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, unfortunately a bottleneck of people queuing outside the facility has resulted, fuelled by these incorrect messages,” he said.
“Inside our premises, at the vaccination facilities, we are maintaining social distancing with markings on the ground and chairs carefully distanced, but areas outside our hospital grounds are unfortunately beyond our control.
“The SA Police Service has repeatedly told people gathering outside the premises and who do not have an appointment to leave, and ordered those queuing to respect social distancing guidelines, but to little avail.”
At Netcare Milpark Hospital in Johannesburg, traffic was backed up as healthcare workers waited in their cars to access the vaccination site.
The South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) on Thursday disputed information being shared online claiming hospitals had extended the coverage of the Sisonke trial to the public due to an impending expiry date.
Prof Glenda Gray, CEO of the SAMRC, said the vaccine stocks were still in good condition.
“The vaccines are not expiring as they have a year expiration date. In the fridge they last for 28 days and in room temperature they last for four hours. On Friday we expanded our definition of a healthcare worker to include people who work in funeral parlours, undertakers, and non-patient facing healthcare workers who work in the field.
“It extends beyond those facing patients,” Gray said.
The confusion came amid fiery debate on the vetting process of the rollout after a video posted on Twitter by a technology and motoring journalist who wrote: “I got the vaccine.”
Dr Keith Cloete, head of health in the Western Cape, explained on Thursday that the Sisonke programme had “widened its criteria” for eligibility but it still only applied to those in the health sector. The vaccine is being rolled out to people over the age of 60 on Monday.
“Nobody should be jumping the queue. We should all be adhering to rules, people must wait their turn,” he added.
In Durban, Fikile Mhlongo told TimesLIVE that she spent her Wednesday night dreaming that she would get vaccinated on Thursday morning.
Mhlongo was one of hundreds of health workers outside St Augustine's Hospital.
When she arrived she was told to join the queue, which was apparently more than a kilometre long, and await further instructions.
“I had my voucher which proved my registration, but then we started hearing about appointments and dates, something that wasn't on our registration. We are waiting here but unsure if we will get help or not. We have not eaten and cannot leave our spots in the queue.”
Thokozani Zuma and his colleagues made the trip from Shelly Beach on the south coast on Thursday morning in an attempt to arrive at St Augustine’s hospital before 5am.
He too received a message notification early on Thursday morning informing him that he would receive his vaccination at the Durban hospital.
“We were surprised to see such a long queue, even though we weren't that late. Some workers have been here since before 5am and have not been assisted yet. When we got here we heard for the first time that elderly people had also been called to come and get vaccinated.”
Du Plessis said St Augustine’s and Milpark hospitals continued to vaccinate only eligible healthcare workers who have registered to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations and who have been pre-booked for vaccination today and tomorrow.
It is of vital importance that the process is properly followed. Only those who arrive with the correct documentation will be able to receive a vaccine.Netcare MD Jacques du Plessis
“While both Netcare St Augustine’s and Netcare Milpark hospitals have been set up to vaccinate a high number of healthcare workers, there are no additional vaccination slots available and we are therefore unable to vaccinate any walk-ins. We strongly urge individuals without appointments not to come to either of these facilities and endanger themselves by arriving en masse,” said Du Plessis.
“As the Sisonke programme, which is focused on the vaccination of healthcare workers, comes to a close, we are seeing an influx of people arriving to be vaccinated. This has not been helped by the misinformation being circulated.”
He said there was no shortage of healthcare workers wishing to be vaccinated at this time. “And we are working efficiently and carefully, doing our utmost to ensure the safety of everyone.
“However, the challenge we are facing is that many people are arriving to be vaccinated without vouchers. To ensure minimum delay, we would like to remind everyone to bring along all the necessary paperwork including proof of employment and identity document or passport.”
He said the verification and registration process could be time consuming, particularly with so many individuals arriving without vouchers.
“It is of vital importance that the process is properly followed. Only those who arrive with the correct documentation will be able to receive a vaccine.”
The Gauteng department of health said on Thursday it was aware of the “overwhelming demand for vaccines at various vaccination sites by healthcare workers” and appealed for calm.
“Health workers who have not been vaccinated at the end of the Sisonke programme will get the opportunity to receive the vaccine under the Phase 1b vaccine rollout, which is commencing next week.
“The available vaccine stock under the Sisonke early access programme is only sufficient to accommodate people who have already been issued with vouchers and appointments.”
The department said the SAMRC was working towards a “smooth handover” as the Sisonke programme comes to an end this week.
“All vaccination sites being used for the Sisonke study programme will only be able to assist health personnel who are in possession of a voucher and an appointment.”