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Violence severely impedes Covid-19 vaccine rollout in KwaZulu-Natal, Gauteng

Forty-four Covid-19 vaccination sites have managed to remain operational in KwaZulu-Natal despite the upheaval sparked by protests against former president Jacob Zuma’s imprisonment last week, the head of health for the province Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu told a media briefing on Wednesday.

Work at many other Covid-19 vaccination sites has however ground to a halt in KwaZulu-Natal as well as Gauteng after rampant looting and violence raised safety and logistical challenges.  

Twenty pharmacies in KwaZulu-Natal have been looted and damaged, while one was burned down. Several others have closed their doors, according to the Independent Community Pharmacy Association (ICPA). 

On Tuesday the health department said the nationwide vaccination programme was continuing despite some sites in KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng temporarily shutting.

“Recent violent protests have impacted the vaccination rollout and also disrupted access to essential healthcare services including collection of chronic medication by TB, HIV, diabetes and other patients in some districts and areas in both KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng,” it said.

In Wednesday’s briefing, Simelane-Zulu said despite pharmacies and vaccination sites being attacked, there had been no impact on the actual drugs, which are kept at hospitals and shipped out to vaccination sites and back on a daily basis. So far, no vaccines had been damaged or stolen, and there were enough doses left for several days to keep the 44 sites still operational in KwaZulu-Natal going, she added.

One concern however, she said, was that delivery of vaccines to the province which had been scheduled for this week had been put on hold due to national and provincial routes being blocked. 

ICPA chief executive Jackie Maimin told the Mail & Guardian that the consequence of chronically ill patients not having access to their medication due to the disturbances was severe. 

“These pharmacies would have had patient chronic prescriptions on site and on record. With the destruction of pharmacies, most if not all these records are no longer accessible, and patients will have to obtain new prescriptions from their doctors in order to get their chronic medicines,” Maimin said.

The consequences include coma, strokes, heart attacks and death for those reliant on antiretrovirals, heart medication, blood pressure medication and insulin. There could also be severe complications in the functioning of those reliant on psychiatric medication. 

Independent pharmacies are trying to find alternative dispensing points for their patients at outlets that have not been affected by looting. 

“Many of the affected pharmacies are using social media channels to communicate with their patients to assist as best they can. Our independent members are doing everything possible to aid and assist patients in finding their closest pharmacy,” Maimin said. 

On Tuesday, the national health department said those who had been scheduled to receive vaccines but were unable to do so because of the violence, would be automatically rescheduled on the electronic vaccine data system.

The KwaZulu-Natal department of health is also making a formal request for the deployment of the army to guard healthcare facilities and escort supply vehicles to ensure that the sector can continue working unimpeded.

Simelane-Zulu said there were several other contingency plans in place and being implemented, but these would not be made public to ensure they were not interfered with.

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