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Gearing up for vaccine roll-out

The word on everyone’s lips currently is “vaccine”, or more specifically Covid-19 vaccines which are currently being administered in several countries.

South Africa, and the Western Cape in particular, is also gearing itself up for the arrival of these vaccines, widely understood to be the necessary prelude to “a return to some form of normality.”

Some residents of the Langeberg area are hesitant about being vaccinated, but the local Department of Health says people should reflect on why this vaccine offers society a chance to recover and be able to do things they have not been able to do for a while.

Since the first positive Covid-19 case was confirmed in the Western Cape on 11 March 2020, 256 405 people have been infected and 9 344, fellow citizens, friends and family members, have succumbed to this disease.

The pandemic’s devastating impact on lives and livelihoods has necessitated the urgent development of several vaccines by scientists across the world.

Currently, there are 10 leading vaccines that have been approved in various countries, with several others in the development and testing phase. South Africa has secured 1 000 000 doses of the Covishield vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, due for delivery at the end of January and a further 500 000 in February.

As with previous diseases, these vaccines are an important part of keeping society safe and stopping the spread of Covid-19. This is so because vaccines offer protection to an individual by reducing a person’s risk of infection or the severity of their symptoms, experienced at a population level.

When enough people have received the vaccine they develop an immune response “herd or population immunity”, which results in a lowered risk of the virus continuing to spread within that community.

As with all things new, it is understandable that there are concerns from society around the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. As part of the Western Cape Department of Health’s roll-out strategy, engagements with various groups and sectors have been identified. The first of these have already occurred with health-care workers (15 January) and labour unions.

The Covid-19 Vaccination Programme is the largest in the history of the country. It is with this in mind that the department will be engaging with a range of stakeholders and sectors to ensure its success. Key stakeholders who will be engaged include organised labour, citizens, civil society, higher education institutions (HEI), the business sector, religious organisations, statutory citizen engagement structures such as hospital boards and health facility committees.

In acknowledgement of concerns raised during these engagements, the department took it on board to address concerns and reassure staff that their safety is its top priority.

In preparation for the engagement with health staff a rapid poll was conducted and received input from 1 680 staff members to determine concerns and the level of acceptance to the vaccine. In all, 918 health staff indicated they would take the vaccine.

“Trust” and “Hope” were two themes highlighted as reasons for their acceptance of the vaccine. At these engagements there was consensus that accepting the vaccine is voluntarily, yet many health-care workers were looking forward to receiving their jabs.

Logistics

The vaccine will be rolled out in three phases, beginning with front-line health care workers, followed by other essential workers and high-risk groups (people in congregate settings, over the age of 60 and people over 18 years of age with comorbidities), before trying to reach the wider population (persons 18 years and older).

In the Western Cape, a provincial C-19 Vaccine Coordinating Committee (CVCC) has been established and will fulfil a stewardship role to enable a multi-sectoral provincial Covid-19 Vaccination Programme.

The committee will keep relevant stakeholders informed on progress and connect with the National Vaccine Coordinating Committee (NVCC).

A private health sector coordinating committee, consisting of the relevant stakeholders and an expert advisory committee, was also being established. These structures collectively represent the central governance arrangement for the vaccination programme.

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