Maverick Citizen

MAVERICK CITIZEN

Rush for ‘essential worker’ status in second phase of Covid vaccine roll-out

Health workers receiving the Covid-19 vaccine at Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, Johannesburg. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla)

On Sunday, 28 February President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that phase two of South Africa’s vaccine roll-out is scheduled to begin around the end of April to early May. But the Department of Health says the decision surrounding who will be included in the second phase has not yet been finalised.

In the run-up to the start of the second phase of South Africa’s vaccine roll-out, the National Department of Health has received a large number of applications from different sectors wanting to be considered as essential workers. However, the process of defining who falls within the category of essential workers “is not yet complete”, said Acting Chief Director of Child, Youth and School Health at the National Department of Health, Dr Lesley Bamford, on Thursday. 

Frontline healthcare workers have been the first to receive their jab of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine and as of Wednesday, 3 March, 92,029 frontline healthcare workers had been vaccinated under the Sisonke Protocol since vaccinations began on 17 February. 

In order to obtain herd immunity in South Africa, the National Department of Health aims to vaccinate 67% of the population, translating to about 40 million people, by the end of 2021. 

On Sunday, 28 February President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that once the vaccination of healthcare workers in phase one is complete, phase two is expected to begin “in late April, early May”. 

According to the Department of Health, phase two of the vaccination roll-out includes essential workers, people in congregate settings, people over the age of 60 and people over 18 with co-morbidities. 

Phase two will “target all sectors” — and therefore include workers from the private sector, SOEs, the public sector and the informal sector, Dr Bamford told Daily Maverick. 

It is likely that there will be a “sequencing” starting with the workers who are most at risk of severe disease or who are at increased risk of contracting Covid-19 through exposure at work, she said.

“There are discussions now that rather than going sector by sector or ranking sectors… we should rather focus on the workers within those groups, who are at highest risk,” said Dr Bamford.

In recent weeks, the department has received a “large number of requests from different groups” to be considered as essential workers and included in the phase two roll-out, she said

One of the challenges facing the Department of Health is that “everyone who works considers themselves to be an essential worker,” Dr Bamford, told Daily Maverick. 

The Department of Health hopes to give clarification on who will be included in phase two of the vaccine roll-out “in the next two to three weeks,” she said. 

The South African National Editors Forum (Sanef) is among those who applied to the Department in early February, requesting that journalists qualify as essential workers, Sanef administration manager Hopewell Radebe told Daily Maverick. 

When the Covid-19 outbreak first occured in South Africa, journalists were initially not categorised as essential workers, but after engagements with government officials journalists were granted essential worker status. 

In an engagement with President Ramaphosa last week, Sanef chairperson Sbu Ngalwa reiterated that journalists should be “considered” as among those essential workers in relation to the vaccine roll-out plan. 

President Ramaphosa supported the idea that journalists should be included, responding: “I would see no problem whatsoever with journalists also being considered amongst those who should get a vaccine at an early stage because [they] are frontline workers.”

Ramaphosa added that he would raise the issue with Minister Zweli Mkhize and the Department of Health. 

According to Radebe, a follow-up request was emailed to the minister on 27 February, and Sanef is waiting to hear a response. DM

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