DM168 COVID-19

South Africa’s Generation V: Vaccinating for love, actually

By Estelle Ellis, Vincent Cruywagen, Julia Evans and Lungi Langa 24 July 2021

We might be heading towards a merry Christmas, getting closer to herd immunity in December, thanks to South Africans aged 35 to 49 who broke records queueing to get vaccinated. These are their stories.

Estelle Ellis, Vincent Cruywagen, Julia Evans and Lungi Langa

First published in the Daily Maverick 168 weekly newspaper.

Bar any setbacks, such as the emergence of new variants, South Africa is on track to have 35 million Covid-19 jabs in arms by Christmas, getting the country closer to victory over the virus that has claimed more than a confirmed 64,000 lives and another 200,000 suspected excess deaths so far.

That means South Africa would be more than halfway to herd immunity and a considerable way to “containment” of further Covid-19 outbreaks.

The country is currently ranked 52 in the world in terms of vaccines administered per 100,000 of the population, excluding the Sisonke trial, in which 479,768 health workers received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

South Africa has so far managed to vaccinate 7.9 per 100 of the population from 17 May to 17 July compared with the first two months of the vaccine campaigns in other countries and outranks countries like Germany (7.5), Italy (7.3), Brazil (6.2), Australia (5.6) and New Zealand (4.3). The UK leads the race with 23, with Hong Kong second on 16.3 and the United States third on 15.1.

Doing it for family, friends and country, South Africans between the ages of 35 and 49 broke records, braved long lines and posted pictures on social media speaking of relief, gratitude and hope as they rolled up their sleeves to get the Covid-19 vaccine.

This past week, many of them said it felt good to take back a little bit of control from a virus that has ravaged South African communities.

“It is going really well,” vaccine project manager Dr Nicholas Crisp said as the number of jabs in arms ticked past the six million mark.

It is going so well, in fact, that Crisp has missed his appointment for his second Pfizer jab. He and the team often work right through the night to prevent technical glitches slowing down the registration and roll-out.

Civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, especially earlier this month, set them back when many pharmacies and vaccination sites were destroyed, Crisp said, but added that they were catching up fast.

“The rest of the country rallied and kept the momentum going. We are getting a lot of calls from vaccination sites saying their vaccines are finished [and] begging us for more,” he said.

“I want to warn people not to buy the vaccine, or other medicine for that matter, on the black market. Rather report being offered these vaccines on a street corner,” he said. “They are going to crop up somewhere.”

Martin Kingston from Business4SA said 120 pharmacies and vaccine sites were closed, looted or burned during the unrest in KwaZulu-Natal, which meant SA lost capacity of about 10,000 a day. It is believed that about 47,000 doses of Covid-19 vaccines were destroyed or lost during the unrest. The acting Minister of Health, Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, said on 23 July that a high number of people who have been arrested during civil unrest in KwaZulu-Natal last week have tested positive for Covid-19 and are currently in isolation in prison. Kubayi-Ngubane said they were extremely worried about the situation because people showing symptoms who were part of the looting and riots last week will not test because they fear being arrested.

Crisp said that, between private and public sites, they were currently getting about 250,000 vaccines into arms a day at the moment, and hope to reach the target set by President Cyril Ramaphosa, of 300,000 a day,  by next week.

“A number of good things happened,” Crisp said. “All our big special programmes, in the Correctional Services, the Defence Force, the Departments of Education and so on, were doing really well, and then of course we opened the vaccines for those over 35. Once they got going we also saw the 50-pluses getting themselves in gear. And Twitter helped,” he sighed. “Someone posted that we won’t have enough vaccines. I think that helped too to get people out there, even though it is not true. We have enough for everyone.

“Stocks are moving very fast but I must tell you I am sleeping easy for the first time in many months. We are looking good on the supply side,” he said. Millions of Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are expected to arrive over the next few weeks.

It was also recently announced that South Africa’s Biovac Institute will be added as a site where the Pfizer vaccines are filled and finished, and the Aspen Pharma site in Gqeberha will start producing the Johnson & Johnson vaccine under licence and not just under contract. All doses manufactured in South Africa will exclusively be distributed on the African continent.

“The rural provinces are really keeping it going. There is a precious lesson in this for us. We should not be micro-managing people. They are taking the vaccine to the people and they are doing it well,” Crisp said. “We have vaccinated 7.85% of the total population, not just those over 18, with at least one dose of a vaccine.”

Crisp said their next goal is to streamline and simplify the communication on walk-ins. “At the moment it depends very much on the site,” he said. “We acknowledge that it can be frustrating.”

Kingston said their estimates are that there will soon be capacity to do about 420,000 jabs a day. On the ground, as thousands of South Africans rolled up their sleeves, there was an overwhelming sense of relief.

We as young people are still partying and gathering in groups. Yes, we are scared that we will get infected, but that is how young people operate. But we are not too young to get Covid. I believe all young people should get the vaccine to make sure that we will still be there tomorrow and the day after.

Thembelani Moyo (39), a child-caregiver, said she was excited to get the jab because “I hope and I believe, from what I’ve learnt about the vaccine, that it’s going to help me and a lot of people to fight Covid-19 or maybe even reduce the spread of the disease. I just miss the way we used to interact…Learning is not easy, doing stuff is not easy, because you have to keep your distance. If you have to help someone or an elderly person, you have the mask on, you have to be careful. You know, life is not like it used to be.”

At the Momentum Metropolitan Vaccination Site at The Marc, Sandton, Jackie Kibogo (46), who has friends and family members who have had Covid-19 and lost loved ones to the disease, said: “It is necessary and important for everybody to get it so that we don’t infect each other… Just to go back to our daily lives, I suppose. I’m a chef by profession, so you can’t really interact, you can’t do anything, the hotels are closed… I am really looking forward to getting back to that.”

Clement Dewe (37), whose elder brother was just released from hospital after staying there for five days because of Covid-19 complications, said he wanted the jab “the sooner the better”.

“You never know what comes around the corner. So I thought if I have a chance, why not let me get it,” he said.

“Well, it’s science,”  Natasha Moyo (35) said. “I believe in medicine … just like I believe a painkiller will help me. And if I can help reduce the risk, then I’ll play my part,” she said.

Craig Daniels (37) said: “I just think it’s the right thing to do. We still have a long life ahead of us. It’s probably the only thing we can do.”

Daniels, who is in the restaurant industry, added: “I’m not so much worried about the health part as much as my business is suffering at the moment – that’s a big impact for us. So we just need everybody to get vaccinated so that we can get back to some sort of normal daily life, or whatever the new normal is.”

Edward Sogo (46) said he’s getting the jab because it is a good thing to do. “We don’t want to be part of the statistics,” he said. Sogo said that even though he’s scared of needles he was in a jubilant mood. “I’m prepared, I’m in for it.”

Losing her father to Covid-19 is the main reason Elna Kundishora (39), from Essenwood in Durban, has decided to get vaccinated. She was among those in line when vaccinations resumed this week at the Moses Mabhida Stadium in Durban.

The vaccination process started off a bit shakily for her, after a man who was vaccinated before her collapsed right after receiving the jab, making her wonder whether to go ahead.

“After that, I was just like … do I do it or do I not do it? But, you know, watching the number of deaths due to Covid-19 is one thing you have to think about and be realistic about,” she said.

Kundishora’s father died in January this year as a result of Covid-19. “Before it was numbers and then numbers became names of people and that was scary. Now you know it is coming closer and closer every day. Yesterday [19 July], a friend of mine lost her sister-in-law, and another lost her dad. Every day someone is dying. Right now you can actually do something about it,” she said.

Doctor Moloi (37) has never doubted the vaccine, he said. He was excited after hearing of registration for people who are over 35 years to be vaccinated. He says he has seen people being infected.

“I currently know of someone who is relying on oxygen due to the virus,” he said.

Sifiso Hlophe (41) said that when the pandemic started no one knew of a way to keep safe except by practising the Covid-19-prevention guidelines, such as wearing masks. He says that because there is now a way to protect himself, he wants to explore it.

“When you are ill and depending on a ventilator, you are all alone in that room. There is no one with you,” he said. For him, this is part of the reason he cannot entertain any conspiracies about the virus and the vaccine.

In Atlantis in the Western Cape, many braved the cold weather to get their jab.

Evelyn Manuel (72) couldn’t make it on her own to the vaccination centre and had to depend on her 24-year-old grandchild Santay Manuel. They were part of a long queue outside the Saxonsea Civic Centre on 21 July.

“I’m scared that my granny will get Covid and it is important that she gets her jab,” Santay said. “We as young people are still partying and gathering in groups. Yes, we are scared that we will get infected, but that is how young people operate. But we are not too young to get Covid. I believe all young people should get the vaccine to make sure that we will still be there tomorrow and the day after,” she added.

Schalk Lodewyk (34), who is currently unemployed, said he believed vaccination could in the future hold the key to getting a job.

Acting Minister of Health Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said during a briefing on 23 July that rates of new Covid-19 infections are on a downward trend, with a significant drop in Gauteng, but the country still registered 4,988 new cases in the 24 hours from 22 to 23 July. “All indications are that we have passed the peak of the third wave,” she said.

She added that it was all systems go for weekend vaccinations – 1,500 medical volunteers have offered to man sites over weekends.

The department also announced that people will soon be able to schedule their own vaccinations and that the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) is now available in a number of other languages including Afrikaans, isiXhosa and isiZulu.

Professor Glenda Gray, the president of the South African Medical Research Council and the lead investigator on the country’s Sisonke trial, said 28 deaths are currently being investigated after being reported as linked to the vaccine.

She said new data from the UK shows that vaccines were having a marked impact on Covid-19-related deaths and that vaccines work against the Delta variant, currently the dominant variant in South Africa. DM168

This story first appeared in our weekly Daily Maverick 168 newspaper which is available for free to Pick n Pay Smart Shoppers at these Pick n Pay stores until 24 July 2021. From 31 July 2021, DM168 will be available for R25 at Pick n Pay, Exclusive Books and airport bookstores.

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