/ 13 August 2021

People ‘just need to rock up’ to get vaccinated

August 04 2021 Western Cape Health Department ‘health Bus’ Visits The Fair Cape Dairy Near Durbanville To Administer Covid 19 Vaccinations To Farmworkers & People From The Surrounding Area On Wednesday Morning. Photo By David Harrison
Roadshow: In the Western Cape, the department of health has a mobile vaccination bus to bring vaccines to remote areas. On 4 August, the day the Mail & Guardian visited, it was the turn of the Fair Cape Dairy farmworkers and other staff, north of Durbanville. (David Harrison/M&G)

“Don’t you rather have a pilletjie [tablet]?” a farm worker asks politely as he readies himself to be injected with the single-shot Johnson & Johnson Covid-19  vaccine. 

A member of the Western Cape health department’s roving vaccination team chuckles that no, unfortunately there is no option to take the dose orally.

Between the Malanshoogte and Vissershok roads outside Durbanville, surrounded by yellow Canola fields, the team is ready to inoculate communities in rural areas who might otherwise be left out of the national vaccination programme for the coronavirus.

Frank Andries Strauss is a 77-year-old resident from Fisantekraal. He didn’t have the chance to be vaccinated when the programme first opened for those aged over 60 years, but took the first opportunity to do so the moment he heard about the mobile site. “I have no problem with [the vaccine],” he said after receiving his dose.

A large Western Cape department of health bus and gazebos are visible from the road, and healthcare staff scurry around with a sense of urgency as the government pushes towards achieving herd immunity against the deadly virus. 

In South Africa, Covid-19 had claimed more than 75 000 people as of Tuesday, 10 August, according to official data.

Eliot Jevu, a 41-year-old farm worker from a nearby horse-racing farm, awaits his turn in the queue. “I’m scared of Corona, that is why I am here today,” says Jevu. He is unsure how his body will react to the vaccine, but adds: “I’m happy for this opportunity today”.

Domestic worker Nokwayiyo Ntshamba, who is 43, registered on the online system on 16 July, but was worried after not receiving an SMS telling her where to go for her jab. She is thankful for the chance to finally get vaccinated at the mobile station. 

Sitting under a gazebo, a group of men display emotions akin to those who have just returned from a battlefield. Everyone who has just gotten the shot must wait for 15 minutes while health workers observe them for any possible side effects. This is just a precautionary measure, explains a nurse, adding quickly that she has not seen anyone collapse after taking the vaccine. The men appear still sceptical despite her reassurances.

The few women standing around laugh as they endure their shots with minimal fuss.

The men are not overly joyful about being injected, but understand the importance of it, says one member of the group, who just wants to get it over and done with. 

“It stings a bit, but now it is gone,” says one man with a deep sigh, echoing the sentiments of the farm worker who asked for a pill earlier.

Another applauds how hassle-free the whole experience has been: “I will encourage other [farm workers] to do the same. Other people must pay taxi fees to visit a vaccination site, but for us it was arranged”.

A nurse waits inside the bus for the day to start. (David Harrison/M&G)

The exercise is a massive logistical undertaking, says Jacques du Preez, the human resource director at Fair Cape Dairies, where the mobile vaccination team was temporarily stationed when the Mail & Guardian visited.

Du Preez is referring to the process of registering the more than 1 300 employees eligible for vaccination at Fair Cape Dairies. Added to that, transport had to be arranged for employees from as far as Malmesbury, all while ensuring that daily production activities were not disrupted.

Du Preez acknowledges the health department’s determination to vaccinate everyone, including working earlier hours to accommodate the drivers responsible for distribution. 

“We tried to create a positive vibe around the vaccine. For us the drive to get it done is to ensure our people are safe,” explains Du Preez. 

The provincial parliament standing committee on health paid an unannounced oversight visit to the vaccination site. Chairperson Wendy Philander lauded the infrastructure, equipment, vaccines and number of health staff at the site.

“It is commendable how the government and private [sector] can bring services to the people,” she said. “I didn’t experience any hesitancy as yet. You can see people are enthusiastic to get their jab.”

The committee wants to determine where the biggest areas of hesitancy are geographically, so that it can go there and encourage people to get vaccinated. The department is ready and waiting, and “people should just rock up”, Philander noted.

Sister Rozene Booys, 28, from the small Moravian mission station in Goedverwacht, near Piketberg, is in charge of the mobile site. 

“You don’t study to work in a comfort zone. You study for days like this,” says Booys, adding that she never in her “wildest dreams thought a pandemic would hit the country”. 

“It is terrifying. Working in the Covid unit and to see the people suffer, and how sick they are…” Booys says, trailing off emotionally.

Booys is taking the lead in her first permanent job in a trauma unit since completing her community service two years ago and admits she still deals with the unknown on a daily basis. For her, the threat of losing family and patients far outweighs any unknowns regarding the vaccine. Compared with the initial months of the pandemic, Booys is now less fearful about going to work and believes the vaccine is a symbol of hope.

Finally, it’s time to be injected inside the gazebo. (David Harrison/M&G)

“You have the hope that next month it will keep people alive. God gave people the knowledge to design a vaccine within a record time. We still fight so many other sicknesses and now we have a vaccine, a cure [for Covid-19],” says Booys. 

The morning rush of farm workers is over and the queue of those still waiting for their turn has thinned out. 

Booys wishes the line was longer and more consistent. Like Philander noted earlier, her team is ready and waiting, for willing arms into which to inject the life-saving vaccine.