Education sector prepares for mass vaccination drive to beat J&J jab expiry date

About 582 000 staff in the private and public basic education sector are set to be vaccinated with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine in the next two weeks, starting on Wednesday.  

The voluntary programme is set to conclude on 8 July, a day before the country’s winter holidays begin.  

Basic education minister Angie Motshekga has welcomed the initiative, which will see teachers, teaching staff, administrative staff and cleaners receiving shots.   

“The vaccination of everybody in the sector is an opportunity to normalise schooling and begin the process of mitigating the impact of Covid-19,” said the minister during a weekend media briefing. 

She added that the recovery of the sector was not possible in the short term. 

Motshekga also acknowledged the teachers and staff members the sector lost to Covid-19.

Staff members with comorbidities were encouraged to receive their jabs as soon as possible to allow them to return to education facilities for face-to-face teaching.   

The minister said that the five official teachers unions in the country — the South African Democratic Teachers Union, the National Professional Teachers Organisation of South Africa, the National Teachers’ Union, the Professional Educators’ Union and the South African Teachers’ Union — were in full support of the vaccination programme. 

“The leadership of the teacher[s] unions are themselves expected to get vaccinated this week,” said Motshekga. 

In a press statement on Monday, the department said it had communicated the steps to be taken before and during the vaccination process, while more details regarding the vaccination schedules at various sites would soon be provided. 

During a media briefing on Friday, public health specialist Nicholas Crisp said that the J&J vaccines had a short expiry date, “which is why we are accelerating [the vaccination of the basic education sector] over such a short space of time”.

Crisp said that of the 582 000 sector workers set to be vaccinated, some had already received their jabs, because they were over 60, or were psychologists or registered healthcare workers. “But the majority of people obviously still need to be vaccinated,” he noted.

Teachers and staff are reminded to take their IDs and any medical aid information to vaccination sites. 

South Africa is expected to receive another 1.2-million J&J vaccines on Monday 21 June.  300 000 doses arrived in the country on Thursday last week. 

Motshekga confirmed that, despite a nationwide surge in Covid-19 infections, schools would not close. 

The country is well into its third wave. On Sunday, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases reported 13 155 new infections. The recovery rate remains relatively stable at above 90% and the death toll continues to increase, nearing 59 000 since March last year.

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

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