Cheryl Kahla
Deputy Online News Editor
3 minute read
24 Jun 2021
9:09 am

SA vaccine rollout: setbacks, unreliable distribution and ageism

Cheryl Kahla

Senior citizens are being left behind in the Eastern Cape.

Elderly South Africans receive the Covid-19 vaccine at the Munsieville Centre for the Aged as part of phase 2 of the vaccine campaign. Picture: Citizen.co.za/Michel Bega

While the education sector prepares to vaccinate more than 580,000 employees in the next two weeks, senior citizens in the Eastern Cape and other rural areas who are eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccines are being left behind.

Earlier this week, Health Department spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo accused a senior official of mismanaging the vaccination rollout in the Eastern Cape. Apart from a number of hospitals running low on vaccine doses, senior citizens were also left stranded in cold weather.

In a GroundUp interview, Dr Ongama Ntloko, a general health practitioner in the Eastern Cape, says the health department’s Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) is failing elderly citizens.

“People take a bus around 6am and arrive in town about 10 to 11am and the bus leaves at 1pm. Under these circumstances they will never be able to manage the logistics of this appointment system,” says Ntloko.

Ntloko suggests the health department bring vaccines to people who cannot travel to vaccination sites and urges the department – and the public in general – to educate residents in rural regions about vaccinations.

In addition, elderly citizens at Xhora Mouth in Elliotdale and in Manzimdaka village near Ngcobo tell GroundUp they are not registered to receive vaccines as none of them have smartphones or internet access.

Other regions report low numbers of registrations, citing a lack of information about where to register. In some instances, citizens hear “about all the negativity and decide that they don’t need to be vaccinated”, says chief Nophazamile Gwebindlala of Xhora Mouth.

However, getting senior citizens to register is only the first step, according to Jane Simmonds, research manager at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).

Simmonds said “registration is important but cannot save lives, needles in arms with vaccines save lives”.

The Eastern Cape health department could take a leaf out of the North West health department’s book. Earlier this month, health MEC Madoda Sambatha and his team went from door to door assisting thousands in rural communities to register on EVDS.

Sambatha said the outreach “was very helpful in bringing more attention to the vaccination programmes; the campaign managed to achieve the intended numbers of vaccinations in the chosen villages”.

The North West health department said the province was “making significant strides in the fight against Covid-19”, having administered 69,522 vaccines at the time.

Meanwhile, elderly citizens and those with co-morbidities in the Northern Cape were delayed in receiving their vaccines.

A survey at the start of June showed that only 10% of the senior population in the province received their jabs. The province is now gearing up to vaccinate teachers and support staff, with 556 schools targeted in the rollout.

Education MEC Zolile Monakali said vaccinating staff in the sector was vital “to make sure we get our teachers and schools ready, so we can get back to normal, especially our primary schools”.

The Northern Cape province is experiencing a shortage of funds, nurses and specialised staff to operate ventilators, the DA claims.

“[The Northern Cape province] doesn’t even have enough staff or funds to ensure that Covid-19 testing is done seven days a week at all testing facilities. This was recently exposed at the De Aar clinic in town where testing is only being done on Mondays and Fridays.”

Given that less than 1% of the country’s population have been vaccinated, DA leader John Steenhuisen said South Africa’s vaccine programme had been a “disgraceful, unforgivable failure so far”.

Secretive. Slow. Disorganised. Fatal.

Now read: Covid-19 death toll – an avoidable addition to Ramaphosa’s legacy?