MAVERICK CITIZEN

Vaccine cheats: ‘The EVDS has not failed — the public has broken the system’

By Estelle Ellis and Christi Nortier 25 May 2021

Health workers queue for vaccines at Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg. (Photo: Felix Dlangamandla / Daliy Maverick)

The team at the Electronic Vaccination Data System has been spending hours trying to stop South Africans younger than 60 — who keep finding loopholes that allow them to be registered and get the Covid-19 vaccine — from sharing the loopholes on social media. While the queue-jumpers, those who simply walk in and get the jab, are being vilified, Dr Nicolas Crisp says that is not their biggest worry.

Estelle Ellis and Christi Nortier

The man in charge of the government’s Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), Dr Nicolas Crisp, sounds gatvol.

From having to spend time haggling with a Twitter user who was telling others how to use a link in a medical aid registration system to hack the EVDS and get in line for a vaccine if you’re younger than 60, to having to shut down the healthcare worker site because youngsters were using it to get access to vaccines, it has already been a rough week. And it’s only Tuesday.

“We have early mornings and late nights and then I must still answer the emails sent to the minister. I realise that providing information calms people down,” said Crisp.

He added that, from the outset, it is important to stress that the government’s EVDS system has not failed.

“This morning I had a call asking why we had to call in a team from an auditing firm to bail us out. It is not even true. The auditing firm is one of half a dozen firms working on the system. People are rooting for government to fail on this — and we are not.”

Crisp said it was very important to register and that once you have done this, you will be in the queue. 

“If there are no live sites within 10km of your house in urban areas and 20km in rural areas, the queue will be parked until a site goes live.”

He said once a site has been approved that is close to a registered person’s house, the line will be “activated” and both private and public sites will be able to schedule appointments. 

“The appointments will depend on the parameters you gave when registering, including when you want to be vaccinated.”

He said they discovered over the weekend that people were using the EVDS site for healthcare workers and providing false information to register for the vaccine. 

“This allowed people younger than 60 to register. It was meant to provide a place for non-medical staff like receptionists and cleaners to register, but we had to shut it down because many used it as a way to get around the limit that you had to be over 60 to register on the general site,” he said.

Instead, Crisp said they had to open a separate portal for healthcare professional staff where credentials would be verified. 

“Because, believe it or not, some healthcare professionals still haven’t registered.” 

He said that as a result of the healthcare worker site being abused, non-professional staff without verifiable credentials will not be able to register now unless they are over 60.

“People are unbelievably ingenious,” he said. “Dishonest people are spoiling a good system. Today I had to engage with someone who figured out that if you register first with your medical aid, it will show a link where those under 60 are allowed to register on the EVDS. And this person was telling the whole world about it on social media.”

He said the EVDS system does not only register people for vaccination, but also allows for the scheduling of vaccines.

“We had some problems, particularly with the private vaccination sites where walk-ins were allowed. So because we know that there will be some no-shows, we have allowed those who manage the site to allow a certain number of walk-ins to make up for this.”

He said a balance must be struck between keeping the momentum going in communities and planning for vaccination. “But we ask those running the vaccination sites to attend to people with appointments first,” he said. 

Last week, those under 60 had been vaccinated but this week they will be asked to leave. “It makes it difficult for us to do our logistics planning.”

“I am also still waiting for my appointment,” Crisp said. “I am a medical doctor but I don’t see patients so I have registered as an over-60. I haven’t received a scheduled appointment yet.”

He said that in an effort to avoid corruption, the site is audited daily by the Auditor-General. “It is something I insist on,” he said. “On the other hand, the public are just inventing their own rules as we go along.”

“I often get asked,” Crisp said, “why we don’t just release all the vaccines we have and go for it. First, you can’t just send the Pfizer vaccine out there. It is a vaccine that must be kept at -70°C. We must send it through a cold chain. Also the batches must be quality checked before we can release them.”

He added that he is often asked what would happen if you miss an appointment. “The system will reschedule your appointment twice and after the third time that you missed it, you can phone and they will schedule you again. But we will give you three opportunities to get the vaccination before this point.

“If you have registered, your turn will definitely come up. You are in our records and as soon as an appointment slot at a vaccination site in your area is available, you will receive an SMS. Please exercise patience; we will not leave anyone behind on our nation’s vaccination drive.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said “we are allowing walk-ins. We are registering them and they get the vaccine. We don’t turn people away. If you are over 60 you can go to your nearest vaccination site to get the jab. Especially those who are 80 must do so.”

“How soon you will receive an SMS for a new appointment depends on how many vaccination centres there are in your area. As more vaccination sites are being opened every week, more appointment slots will become available and the sooner you will be notified of an appointment.

“After registering on the EVDS, you should receive an SMS confirming that you are registered and in the queue to be scheduled for your vaccine. If you have not received this SMS, please go back and verify by entering your ID number. 

“The EVDS applies the same rules to everyone in both the private and the public sectors. Appointments depend on the number of vaccination sites in your area. It also depends on the time slot you have chosen, such as morning or afternoon on weekdays or weekends. 

“Our healthcare workers continue to be vaccinated and receive priority to ensure they can safely support our fight against Covid-19. For example, if you live in an area where there are several vaccination sites, you will receive an SMS quicker than someone who resides in an area where there are currently few sites.

“Some medical schemes will also ask you to register on their system so that they can send you information about vaccinations. You will, however, still need to register on the EVDS. It is the only way to book an appointment, regardless of whether you are vaccinated at a public or private site, or have medical insurance,” Crisp said.

“Your medical aid has to follow the rules of the national vaccine rollout as set out by the Department of Health. Medical aids are only allowed to vaccinate a certain age group as announced by the Department of Health. 

“The EVDS will ask you if you have a medical aid. If you do, you will need to enter the name of the scheme and also your medical aid number. The system will try to send medical aid members to private sites (if there is one in their area) but they may be invited to a public site,” he said.

Crisp said if a person had a change of address since first registering, they can go back to the EVDS system and enter the new information. There will not be a duplicate record as long as you use the same ID number. The system will use your ID number to effect any updates to your personal information. The EVDS is designed to deal with changes and updates to your personal information. 

“We appeal to people not to just walk in. Walking into a vaccination site does not mean that you will be vaccinated immediately. Vaccination sites can assist to register persons 60 years and older on the EVDS. Registering online in advance and being allocated an appointment slot is the best way to ensure you receive your vaccine.”

He said the health department was working on a system that will allow people without identity documents to get vaccinated. Details of this system will be announced in due course. The plan is to be able to cater for all undocumented migrants as well as people without identity documents. 

Crisp said there are five provinces that are scheduling their own appointments. 

He said it was going very well in general and, given that many rural sites are keeping a book of vaccines on paper, they are expecting the final number of vaccines given to be much higher than the current figure. At midnight on Monday 24 May, according to the latest release by the health department, it was 171,860. 

“KwaZulu-Natal especially is flying through the vaccines,” he said. “Last week we sent more vaccines to Gqeberha, but the plane couldn’t land because of a storm so we had to send them by vehicle on Thursday morning. We will make a plan. 

“People must stop trying to break into the system,” Crisp said.

Eastern Cape health department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said “we are allowing walk-ins. We are registering them and they get the vaccine. We don’t turn people away. If you are over 60 you can go to your nearest vaccination site to get the jab. Especially those who are 80 must do so.”

Mondli Mvambi from the Free State department of health said they do allow walk-ins, but encourage people to register first. 

“We allow walk-ins because most of them are uncertain about the vaccine and they have heard many stories before. When they come, we allow them to get it. It is their right. Our aim is to ensure that the willing elderly are vaccinated and that we leave no one behind. We are looking into helping those who are bed-ridden at home and our outreach structures are making arrangements for them to be vaccinated.”

Gauteng health department spokesperson Kwara Kekana said walk-ins were discouraged. 

“We are encouraging people to go to the vaccination sites with an appointment so that we avoid overcrowding,” she said, but added that they would not turn walk-ins away. DM/MC

How to register:

If you have online access or a smartphone you can register through SMS by dialling *134*832* your ID number# – if you do not have an ID number, dial *134*832#. Registration can also be done through the Covid WhatsApp number by sending “REGISTER” to 0600123456. SMS and WhatsApp registration services are zero-rated; there is no need to have data or airtime to access the service. 

Gallery

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