Occupational therapist Isolde Burger was injected with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the Klerksdorp Hospital on Day One of the roll-out. Speaking to Daily Maverick moments after getting the jab, she said: “I don’t know how I feel now. I am quite scared of the symptoms that might come afterwards, because there is not really clear information about how you will feel afterwards. It is a very experimental thing. I think there is more fear than anything.”
Despite her fear, Burger said it was her duty as a frontline worker to get vaccinated. She also said it was the next best thing to do after physical distancing.
Health MEC Madoda Sambatha encouraged health workers to get vaccinated at the launch of the roll-out and said there should not be a preference on which vaccine to use.
“I don’t want us to have a preference on vaccinations. We must not say Johnson & Johnson against Pfizer, or Pfizer against Moderna. Every vaccine that will come to South African shores is going to go through the registration process handled by the national Department of Health and South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).”
He emphasised that the vaccine was not a cure against Covid, but helped protect against the virus and said, “We need to continue wearing masks, wash our hands repeatedly and maintain social distancing.” He later welcomed the vaccine by singing, “We are ready, we are ready for vaccination.”
The roll-out is part of a three-phase programme, with the first phase focusing on healthcare workers. In a programme called Sisonke (togetherness), the vaccine will be rolled out to up to 500,000 healthcare workers around South Africa. To date, at least 40,000 SA healthcare workers have tested positive for Covid-19 while 6,473 have been hospitalised and 663 have died.
Thabo Lepholletsa, a nurse, commented, “For the past 12 to 16 months, this virus has been terrorising our community, our people have been dying, we’ve been losing our loved ones. So I’m proud and happy that the vaccine is finally here.”
But some are sceptical about taking the vaccine. A nurse described the uncertainty.
“Most of the people want to see what will happen to the first group, how is it going to affect them, the reaction and everything. There are doctors who are also negative about being vaccinated, they are not sure about the vaccine itself. They are not sure whether it is the right one. I think after seeing others get vaccinated, they will get vaccinated.”
Paramedic Thembile Ngami, who is in the private sector, described some of the fears.
“Most of the people have been joking around talking about the effects of the vaccine. Saying that once you take it you will lose your mind or you might be paralysed. They respond to their fear and say they will not take the vaccine and face Corona on their own.
“They might be health professionals but they are still human beings and they are allowed to be scared. As for me, I think the vaccine will make a difference. I am positive and hoping that this will be our solution, especially with the first batch.”
Dr Radhika Patel, who is based at Klerksdorp Hospital, said Covid-19 had brought a lot of uncertainty. Coupled with fear and anxiety, she said it was stressful seeing her patients deteriorate quickly and she was a strong believer in getting vaccinated.
“It is difficult to speak on behalf of everyone because there are so many different opinions, but I think most of us are happy and willing to receive the vaccine.
“I am relieved to have taken the vaccine, and hopefully it will provide immunity. The Johnson & Johnson trials have looked promising, so here is to hoping to once again live in a world without masks and social distancing.”
North West has received 8,400 doses of the 80,000 doses allocated for private and public healthcare workers. DM
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