Teething problems in first week of national vaccine drive see fewer jabs

The first week of the nationwide phase 2 vaccination campaign saw more than 120 000 people receive their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at 177 vaccination sites. More sites are to be opened next week. 

Before phase 2 kicked off, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the vaccination roll-out will start gradually before daily vaccination numbers are ramped up. 

The South African Medical Association (SAMA) raised some concerns that might hamper the vaccination process if action is not taken to address them. 

Violent service delivery protests in Bloemfontein and load-shedding had prevented some vaccination sites from operating fully in the first week, Mkhize said in a statement on Monday evening

SAMA’s chairperson, Angelique Coetzee, said load-shedding shouldn’t be a problem because every clinic is supposed to have a backup generator. “It is unacceptable that any health facility doesn’t have a backup generator.” 

Several clinics didn’t have enough computers to process data digitally, and manually capturing information slowed down the roll-out, she said. 

On Monday night, Mkhize said “a large number of vaccinations were captured on paper” and added that the number of vaccinations administered at old age homes was still to be finalised.  

Coetzee said KwaZulu-Natal needs more vaccination sites because only 14 000 people were vaccinated on Wednesday.  

But “there will be more sites coming on board. Next week 120 additional sites will come on board and then more from 31 May.” 

A sentiment both SAMA and Mkhize share is about health workers administering the Pfizer doses. 

“Pfizer is a very difficult vaccine regarding storage facilities. Everything must be in place and must be done correctly,” said Coetzee. “Otherwise, we are not going to get the right dosage into the arm, compromising the usage thereof.” 

On Tuesday Mkhize visited a vaccination site at the Royal Showgrounds in Pietermaritzburg. He told the media that health workers were learning how to administer the Pfizer vaccine because only a certain amount of the vial must be withdrawn. 

“People are getting used to this. Every vial holds enough vaccine to vaccinate six people. We want to ramp up vaccinations to more than 20 000 a day,” said Mkhize. 

Another problem SAMA raised was that some hospital managers told staff members not to report side-effects from the Pfizer vaccine because it might create vaccine hesitancy.

“Managers should not intimidate any worker, especially when they want, and must report adverse reactions,” says Coetzee. 

Despite the slow start, Coetzee commended provinces where the vaccine roll-out went well. 

South Africa is seeing a gradual increase in coronavirus infections with more than 3 522 recorded on Wednesday and 3 600 cases on Thursday. South Africa has not yet entered its third wave.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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