‘We don’t know what we bring home to our families’: Cops’ relief at vaccine rollout

Members of the South African Police Service register their details ahead of receiving the vaccine for Covid-19, 05 July 2021, at Orlando Stadium, Soweto, Johannesburg. Vaccinations have opened to members of the police as part of the governments vaccine rollout program.
Members of the South African Police Service register their details ahead of receiving the vaccine for Covid-19, 05 July 2021, at Orlando Stadium, Soweto, Johannesburg. Vaccinations have opened to members of the police as part of the governments vaccine rollout program.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times

With police officers risking their lives when enforcing law and order on the frontline during the pandemic‚ they believe they now have a booster shot at survival with the Covid-19 vaccine.

“I have lots of fears around the vaccine and we hear a lot of theories around it‚ but we can’t deny people are dying and we need all the help we can get‚” police officer Lowellan West said.

“I’m glad the vaccine is finally available to police officers. I feel we should have been part of the first [cohort] to get it because we never had an opportunity to work from home. During lockdown we had to continue to work.”

West‚ who is based in the Western Cape‚ contracted Covid-19 at the end of May last year.

With the vaccination of more than 180‚000 police officers rolled out from this week‚ West believes they will have an “extra layer of protection” as they continue to battle the pandemic head-on.

“I know it won’t stop the virus and neither will it cure you‚ but it will help you if you test positive for Covid-19.

Lowellan West believes cops will have an “extra layer of protection” as they continue to battle the pandemic.
Lowellan West believes cops will have an “extra layer of protection” as they continue to battle the pandemic.
Image: Supplied

“People have lots to say but the same happened when other jabs and injections were added to our lives. I remember we used to get injections at school every year when the school year kicked off. I believe those injections helped tremendously‚” West said.

He said his biggest fear is infecting his loved ones at home after being out on duty.

“I have three children and a beautiful wife. Every day I leave for work and return home unaware of what I bring into our home.

“I’m fearful I’ll be the cause of them being infected. It doesn’t sit well with me and it places strain on my thoughts‚ but what else can I do? I chose this career and I don’t want my family to starve.

“People still debate if there is really a virus‚ and all I can say to them is that people are dying more now than ever before in my lifetime‚ so there is definitely something. Let’s be mindful and safe out there.”

A Free State officer‚ who asked not be named‚ said the toughest part of the job was seeing the coronavirus wipe out close colleagues.

“We have been facing this pandemic head-on as frontline workers‚ losing some members along the way. It’s been so long and it has become a norm for us to have members in quarantine.

“It’s a bittersweet moment knowing it’s our time for vaccination as I feel we don’t have enough research on the vaccine but I guess we must try something‚” the officer said.

Another officer said it was a “terrifying situation” having to work on the frontline while Covid-19 cases were skyrocketing.

“Fearful or not‚ as police officers we had to work. I had to go to work. We were given personal protective equipment but we still risked our lives. I am extremely happy I am still alive.

“The vaccine rollout looks good and we will have more information since health workers and teachers have been vaccinated. We also didn’t hear many teachers complain about the vaccine‚ so we are happy.”

The Police and Prisons Civil Rights Union (Popcru) and SA Police Union (Sapu) welcomed the initiative and called on all members to “heed the call” and get vaccinated.

“It has been a long-awaited moment for our members to be vaccinated and able to do their work without fear during the pandemic‚” said Sapu president Thandi Mkhize.

Police management said by Monday afternoon‚ close to 900 members had received the jab at two sites‚ in Soweto and Tshwane‚ on the first day of the vaccination drive.

Police minister Bheki Cele said: “We don’t have any other scientifically proven way of preventing the severe effects of this virus other than getting vaccinated‚ so the police ministry is thrilled this day has finally arrived.”

There are 108 vaccination sites prepared nationwide for the police‚ which will be activated this week in all nine provinces.

The police said 32‚525 of its members have tested positive for Covid-19 to date‚ and 672 members have succumbed to the virus.

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