Making the announcement on Friday morning, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize described it as a significant and historic moment, as he called on those who can to help senior citizens to register:
“Please help your mother, your father, your grandmother, your grandfather or your friend who is 60 years or older to register so they can get vaccinated. We can all guide each other and look after each other to get through this unprecedented crisis.”
The site can be accessed here.
The minister added: “This launch marks a significant milestone not only for our vaccination campaign but for South Africa’s advancement towards universal health coverage: This is the first time in our democratic history that a major public health campaign will be supported by one digital system for all South Africans. This is in line with the ninth pillar of the Presidential Health Compact, which commits to strengthening the health system by developing an information system that will guide health policies, strategies and investments. Some of the key activities proposed in the [compact] have found expression in the development and establishment of the [registration] system for the general population.
“There will be no distinction between private and state healthcare users, with the exception that private healthcare users will input their medical aid details. The quality of services will be the same for all of us and the system will assign a vaccination site closest to our homes or where we work, not based on whether a particular site is a public or private facility.
“This system is therefore a proud representation of the future of healthcare in this country, under the [National Health Insurance], which is typified by multisectoral collaboration and social solidarity. The realisation of this system would not have been possible without the collaboration of the private sector and business at large. This outcome shows that indeed our society is maturing in the right direction – a direction towards health systems strengthening as a unified force,” he said.
Mkhize explained that the data from the system help the Department of Health to allocate vaccines to service points, ensuring enough are available on vaccination days.
“The details of the vaccinations will be captured digitally, creating an electronic health record. In cases where we have your mobile number you will receive an SMS confirming that you have been vaccinated and you will also be provided with a vaccination card.”
Mkhize detailed the steps to register:
Once the vaccinations were done individuals’ details would be recorded digitally, they would be provided with a proof-of-vaccination card and receive a confirmation SMS.
“I want to reassure South Africans that we do have a plan to ensure that everyone is registered and we want as many people as possible to be registered before going to be vaccinated. This will save a lot of time and will also help us to allocate vaccinations to respective areas appropriately,” said Mkhize.
“We do understand that not everyone in this country has a smartphone or has access to the internet. For this reason we will be using the smartphones and petrol that has been donated to us by various companies and philanthropic organisations to send out teams to help our vulnerable citizens who do not have access to digital technology. This includes the elderly, the homeless and those who live in deep rural areas that are difficult to reach. We will ensure that these team members are easy to identify and that you can verify that they are indeed accredited outreach team members. You will all recall that we had a successful community screening and testing campaign at the beginning of the pandemic and we have indeed used the lessons learnt from that initiative to devise this outreach programme. Our team members will also be trained to be able to educate and raise awareness on vaccination in the community.”
A WhatsApp service would be added shortly on which people could register.
“We will announce when this service is ready.”
Those unable to register electronically would be able to register at vaccination sites.
“You may simply go to the nearest vaccination centre and we will register you on the spot. If you are 60 years or above we will also vaccinate you at the same time. If you are not, we will register you but we may ask you to return for your vaccination – this is only because we really want to prioritise those who are most at risk of getting sick or dying of Covid-19. Please bring your ID and your medical aid card, if you have one, to speed up the process,” he said.
Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla said issues around the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be sorted out soon.
“We have been clear that we are not going to cut corners. We believe that at all times we have to act with certainty about efficacy and safety. Even today, as we launch the system, we have suspended the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but we hope to be back on track soon.”
South Africa halted the use of the vaccine after the American Food and Drug Administration temporarily suspended its use over six reported cases of a rare blood-clotting disorder (clots in the brain coupled with a low platelet count) in young women. More than six million doses of the shot had already been administered in the US. The jab was suspended so scientists can see whether there is a causal link to the clotting cases. If there is, authorities – including the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority – will have to decide if the risk is small enough to continue using the vaccine.
Phaahla urged people to continue wearing masks in public, washing and sanitising hands and avoiding crowds.
He said he understood that those older than 60 might struggle to register on the electronic system, but “there will be help”.
The Health Department’s acting chief operating officer, Milani Wolmarans, said the system collects only “minimal information” that is necessary for the registration process. Data collected would not be shared with anybody.
“We also want to make sure that people can get their vaccination close to their homes or places of work… Everyone who registers will receive a vaccination.”
She said health workers who registered before but have not yet been vaccinated do not need to re-register.
The department would communicate extensively as the registration system was opened to more age groups.
Martin Kingston from Business4SA said more than 100 very senior volunteers from businesses in South Africa donated their time and skills to assist with the system.
“We welcome the launch and the focus on the over-60s. This is significant progress,” he said.
Kingston urged that the vaccination drive be done as quickly as possible. DM/MC
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