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Why the Eastern Cape might take longer to roll out vaccinations

According to Eastern Cape health MEC Sindiswa Gomba, people in the province will have to wait a few more months to get vaccinated. Gomba told a virtual media briefing on Thursday that the process of identifying and training workers would take longer than they had thought.

“At the moment, we are at the stage where we are evaluating the sites that are going to do the job; checking whether they have capacity and fridges to keep the specimens,” she said in a statement.

Gomba said the provincial task team that will administer the vaccination programme would complete its inspections of all identified sites only by April.

The department is still working on verifying and accrediting sites that will be used to inoculate millions of people. According to provincial health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo, the department plans to have vaccination sites within a 5km radius of every community. 

The first phase will target health workers; the second will be for essential service workers and people more than 60 years old; and the third phase will focus on those people not in the first two phases. 

Kupelo said the department would deploy mobile clinics for better access to rural areas.

“The department will use its mobile-health services to access rural areas with vaccines. There will be access to either a mobile or a fixed vaccination site service. If there’s no fixed health facility or a government building, then the department will consider using a mobile service,” Kupelo said. 

The Eastern Cape was the epicentre of the second wave in December. Cases increased exponentially, with the province experiencing more than 45% of new infections in the country late last year. The increase in cases forced the government to impose harsher restrictions on the Nelson Mandela Bay Metro, including curfews and beach closures. Currently, there are more than 191 000 active cases in the province.

Meanwhile, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) in the province is demanding to be part of developing a vaccine-distribution strategy, according to its secretary in the province, Miki Jaceni. 

Nehawu was particularly keen to be involved in developing the strategy for vaccinating front-line workers, including as nurses, doctors, porters and cleaners.

“We are awaiting confirmation for a meeting that we requested with the MEC of Health to discuss such a strategy,” Jaceni said.

Earlier this week the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccines would arrive in South Africa from India on 1 February. 

Mkhize said healthcare workers would be prioritised for vaccination. 

Although unsure of the specific sites for their vaccination, Kupelo is adamant that healthcare workers will be vaccinated in February.

“The vaccine rollout is in three stages: the first stage is targeting health workers, and it is scheduled to start in February as soon as the stock is received from the national department of health. The facilities for phase one are mainly health facilities owned by the department. The assessment has been done, and they are being registered on the EVDS [Electronic Vaccination Data System]. Phase two and three will include non-[department] facilities. These facilities will be capacitated to get them ready for phase two and three. Assessment of these sites will take place in March and April for accreditation as vaccination sites.”

The province will use 1 158 vaccination sites, including hospitals and clinics. More than 570 vaccinators are set to be trained, and 3.7-million people will be vaccinated in the next six to nine months. 

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Chris Gilili
Chris Gilili is a climate and environmental journalist at the Mail & Guardian’s environmental unit, covering socioeconomic issues and general news. Previously, he was a fellow at amaBhungane, the centre for investigative journalism.

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