Covid-19 Vaccines

Nearly 500,000 teachers and education sector workers to be vaccinated over 10 days, starting on Tuesday

The 300,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses arriving on Friday are already thawed, but will remain good until at least the end of June, when the next batches of 700,000 and 500,000 are expected. (Photo: people.com / Wikipedia)

The 300,000 Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines arriving in South Africa on Friday are earmarked for teachers, school governing body members and other education sector staff. And when the next vaccine batch arrives at the end of June, it’s the turn of the police, soldiers and prison warders.

On Friday, health officials are to meet their counterparts from the Department of Basic Education to nail down the final details of the vaccinations of teachers and other workers in the school system, national Department of Health technical adviser Aquina Thulare told MPs on Thursday.

The aim is to vaccinate, over 10 working days from Tuesday 22 June, 499,000 educators across the public and private sectors, school governing body members and administrative staff. 

These 300,000 J&J vaccine doses are already thawed, but will remain good until at least the end of June, when the next batches of 700,000 and 500,000 are expected. From these batches the remaining education sector workers will be vaccinated, followed by members of the SA Police Service (SAPS), SA National Defence Force (SANDF) and Correctional Services.

To date, 1,490,533 people have received at least one vaccine following the end of the Sisonke J&J trial that inoculated 479,768 healthcare workers earlier this year. 

The next 10 days to two weeks will see the replacement of the two million doses South Africa lost after the US Food and Drug Administration ruled they were unsuitable for use due to possible contamination of the ingredients in the US. 

Health department Deputy Director-General Nicholas Crisp said, “The problem is the first 1.5-million of those two million [replacement] doses are already thawed and the shelf life is short. So we have to get them very rapidly into the field. Then, after that we can roll them out into the general programme.”

Crisp confirmed that discussions with the SAPS and SANDF are progressing. 

The public service employee inoculations are facilitated through the Government Employees’ Medical Scheme (Gems), which has appointed a service provider for vaccinations at mobile units and identified fixed sites. 

A special educators’ section is planned for registration on the online Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS). But “no scheduling [is] required by EVDS”, says the departmental presentation, adding that the departments of health and basic education would like schools to host vaccination sites. All that’s needed at the site are a cellphone and medical aid details.

“Security cluster preparation is advanced and can proceed after basic education,” says the health department presentation document, adding the police inoculations are facilitated by Polmed, those of soldiers by military health services, and prison warders through their own sick bays or Gems.

According to health department documentation on Thursday, the general public will become eligible to register for vaccination from 16 July.

Mines are leading the 145 private sector companies ready to roll out — or are already rolling out — the Covid-19 vaccinations to everyone over 40 years of age as part of the workplace inoculation programme. 

An unnamed mine in Rustenburg, North West, started vaccinations on 24 May, with another 58 mines ready to go. 

The private sector companies ready to roll out include 13 construction companies, seven automotive companies, 11 in agriculture and another 56 in other sectors, including two unnamed state-owned entities in Mpumalanga, a Gauteng taxi site and five Gauteng manufacturers, according to the health department presentation.

Crisp told MPs on Thursday that it would not be possible to inoculate 100% of the over-60s by the end of June as some may not want to be inoculated and because of supply delays.

“The challenge is to get sufficient vaccines into the system to get sufficient sites into the system.”

Even if registered, said Crisp, “people should not expect SMSes for some time. In some cases it’s three to four weeks.” And then it seems the EVDS requires specificity. If an applicant simply said Tshwane, then the system would look for vaccination sites across the whole metro. “If you put in a suburb like Gezina, the EVDS will look for a vaccination site, closer.”

But walk-ins — only for eligible age groups and in line with a Covid-19 protocol that’s currently being discussed — are allowed. 

“As the J&J comes in we are able to recover lost ground. We will be encouraging proactive mobilisation. It will avoid a stampede,” said Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla, who emphasised people should register on the online system.  

“We would not want to overwhelm and cause a super-spreader [event] by a general message that people must just come without making an effort.” 

A total of 2,623,039 people aged over 60 have registered on the online system. That’s in addition to 951,279 healthcare workers who did not participate in the Sisonke trials. 

The majority of the over-60s registrations are in Gauteng, with more than 550,000, followed by KwaZulu-Natal (just over 489,000), Eastern Cape (over 391,000), Limpopo (over 380,000) and the Western Cape at just over 367,000.

These registrations must, as Crisp put it, be matched to the 567 vaccination sites currently operational, 446 of which are in the public health sector. It’s a number way short of the 3,357 vaccination sites health officials talked about in late April. But the plan is to double vaccination capacity over the next two weeks, and again in the third week. 

Thursday’s confirmation in Parliament that education sector workers would be next in line for Covid-19 vaccinations should provide comfort. In late 2020, teachers’ unions called for vaccines ahead of a return to classrooms. While private schools, in large measure, resumed physical teaching, public primary schools will be the first to return fully from the end of July.

The rapid arrival of the J&J vaccines, in addition to the scheduled Pfizer vaccine arrivals, will also boost health department officials, specifically, and government, broadly, given the sharp criticism of the slow pace of the vaccine roll-out after being slow to get moving on the vaccines from mid-2020. 

Gauteng officially crossed into the third wave of Covid-19 infections on 10 June, bringing the number of third-wave provinces to four.  

“The Free State crossed it long ago… KwaZulu-Natal and Limpopo are not yet there. Mpumalanga is getting there. North West and the Northern Cape have never really come out of the third wave. The Western Cape is coming strongly,” said Thulare.

On 16 June, for the first time since February 2021, the threshold of 8,000 Covid-19 hospitalisations was breached. A total of 8,727 hospital admissions were recorded, bringing the number of active cases to 95,772.

Of the 13,246 new cases recorded on 16 June, 7,859 were in Gauteng, followed by Western Cape (1,402), North West (917), Free State (617) and KwaZulu-Natal (592). 

Said Thulare, “All the provinces are moving upwards. There is not one single province that is flat. All the provinces are in trouble.” DM

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