/ 3 July 2021

To vax or not is the ‘most polarised topic’

Safrica Health Virus Vaccine
Spreading a measure of safety: Healthcare workers wait for doses to start vaccinating people with Pfizer vaccines at the Bertha Gxowa Hospital in Germiston. (Michele Spatari/AFP)

More than three million doses of Covid-19 vaccines have been administered in South Africa. Despite a slow pace at the start of phase two of the nationwide vaccination campaign on 17 May, more than 107 000 people were vaccinated this week on Tuesday alone.

The month of June saw 7 430 510 vaccine doses of the single shot Johnson & Johnson and the double shot Pfizer reach South African soil.  Some of these vaccines are being used to roll out phase two of the nationwide campaign to vaccinate people older than 60 years. Last week persons working in the basic  education department were also eligible to  receive their jab — of which more than 80 000 have been administered so far. 

Vaccines help stop the spread of Covid-19 and play a critical role in preventing hospital admission and death by reducing the severity of symptoms, according to authori-ties such as the National Institute for Communicable Diseases and the World Health Organisation.

The number of people registering to be vaccinated has, since mid-April, increased significantly, according to the latest data from the health department. The data a definite upward curve, with the number of registrations increasing from 822 697 on 16 April to almost four million people by the end of June. But, despite this upward curve, there are mixed feelings on the ground. 

More than a month after receiving her J&J vaccine, a 27-year-old healthcare worker said she is hesitant to encourage others to be vaccinated. The nurse, who requested anonymity, has worked in a Covid-19 ward since the start of the pandemic last year. 

She treated patients through both the first and second waves. By applying “strict measures” to protect herself from the virus she avoided being infected. Until last week.

She participated in the Sisonke trial, which vaccinated 479 722 healthcare workers with the J&J vaccine. She received her injection on 10 May. More than a month later, on 24 June, she and several of her colleagues tested positive for Covid-19. 

“I am not sure how I got infected because at work we follow all the protective measures necessary,” said the nurse, admitting “it is possible that we infected each other as we might not have been [as] strict towards each other as we are towards patients”. 

The nurse said she experienced chest pain, a sore throat, headaches, coughing and fatigue. 

“I don’t know how I feel about the vaccine anymore because I had never got Covid before. I don’t know if I want to encourage others to get vaccinated or not,” she said. 

Speech therapist Kim Fairfax, 46, got her J&J jab during the Sisonke trial on 6 April. Last week, her test result showed she was Covid positive. She was infected by her teenage daughters. Both her daughters, aged 14 and 17, had the virus and experienced all of the associated symptoms. 

Fairfax said all of her friends who contracted Covid-19 were infected by their teenage children. She said she also noted a visible increase in teachers getting infected in the first two weeks of June. 

Fairfax was on day 10 since being infected when she spoke to the Mail & Guardian this week. Despite experiencing a fever, headaches and being unable to taste anything, Fairfax said the infection never went to her chest. 

In contrast to the young nurse who had no comorbidities, Fairfax says she is a patient at risk. Yet, she had no problems with her lungs and her oxygen levels remained stable.

Fairfax described the subject of getting vaccinated as “the most polarised topic”. She said she didn’t know “why I’m okay”, having only experienced mild symptoms.  Although she does question the long-term effect of the vaccine, she said that “Covid is bigger than just me. I do think people should get vaccinated, I think it is safe.”