Sisonke J&J urges health personnel to remain calm as Covid vials run low at some hospitals

With emotions regarding Covid-19 vaccinations running high and two-thirds of the country’s highest-risk healthcare workers inoculated, a leader in the Sisonke Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout has appealed for calm.

And the South African Medical Association (SAMA) said that when the next consignment of 500 000 vaccine vials arrived, they should be able to cover both the public and private health sectors.

Ian Sanne, of the University of the Witwatersrand, said the invitation and eligibility criteria in the electronic vaccine data system (EVDS) had been tightened between the rollout of the first 80 000 vaccine vials and the subsequent 40 000.

“Healthcare workers need to understand that this includes being hospital-based, patient-facing, working in an actual Covid ward, and doing triage duties in emergency and casualty wards,” he said.

Included in the tightened EVDS protocols was that healthcare workers must produce their staff card showing where they worked if they were not on the public sector personnel and salary system. 

Eligibility for inoculation among private sector health workers had been established through their umbrella membership bodies.

To enable appropriate risk prioritisation for vaccination, Sanne said health workers now had to fill in on the EVDS which facility they were attached to and what category of direct patient service they were in.

“We haven’t changed much, but we’ve tightened up our risk prioritisation categories,” he said. 

There was a limited vaccine supply in the first two weeks of March and “we needed to focus on high priority healthcare workers”.

Dr Angelique Coetzee, the chairperson of the South African Medical Association (SAMA), said there had initially been a tussle between SAMA and the Hospital Association of South Africa (HASA) over who would take responsibility and bear costs for inoculating private doctors and specialists. This had ended in SAMA looking after the doctors and HASA the specialists.

Sanne has also appealed to health practitioners and the impending phase two categories of people, including teachers and police, to remain calm. The system would be adjusted continuously according to supply and demand.

“Emotions have been running very high. I’ve just now sorted through 300 electronic [EVDS] healthcare worker forms to personally verify and validate applications and I found that 10% of them were self-registering incorrectly by getting basic details such as their ID or cell phone numbers wrong,” he said. 

“At present, about 40% of currently eligible healthcare workers have yet to be vaccinated — and about 60% do not meet our eligibility at this time.” 

Sanne stressed that vaccination demand exceeded supply and that the EVDS system was “operating extremely well. It’s just difficult for all the healthcare workers to understand why they were not included this week, but they will be as soon as the vaccine supply improves.” 

He said Sisonke Johnson & Johnson was correlating risk prioritised schedules with onsite vaccine supply to ensure they had enough vaccine to meet ongoing rollout demand.

“In my opinion, the countries that have successfully implemented national vaccine programmes have implemented registration methods, scheduling and vaccination records that enable individuals to receive a vaccine passport,” he said.

When the rollout gathers momentum, Sisonke J&J has planned up to 200 000 vaccinations a day, seven days a week. The inoculation of health workers would hopefully be completed by the middle of April.

On Wednesday, Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital had only 200 vials of vaccine left, having distributed another 200 of their supply to their seven referring district hospitals. 

According to Baragwanath hospital’s spokesperson, Nkosinathi Mazibuko, the hospital has 6 900 health and auxiliary workers and received 7 000 vials last week, which ran out on Friday, and another 400 were delivered on Sunday evening. 

“They had to disinfect the vaccination area on Monday and Tuesday and so only continued vaccinating yesterday [Wednesday],” he said. 

Sanne said the temporary vaccine shortage at Baragwanath hospital was caused by the opening of an additional 21 vaccination sites, which now total 39 nationally.

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Chris Bateman
Chris Bateman is a freelance journalist

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