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JSE-listed pharmacy chain Dis-Chem has been ironing out kinks in the government’s coronavirus vaccine appointment system by sending SMS reminders to people scheduled to receive jabs at its sites.

Vaccination began for people over the age of 60 two weeks ago and got off to a bumpy start.

Appointments are scheduled by the government’s electronic vaccine data system on a “first registered, first vaccinated” basis, and people are supposed to be assigned to sites close to their home or work address. But system glitches have seen some people called to sites far from home, while others have received their SMS notifications with only hours to spare until their assigned slot.

Several private sector operators, including Dis-Chem and health and life insurer Discovery, encountered initial glitches with the government’s system, which saw them accepting unplanned walk-ins to avoid wasting doses.

While Discovery’s trouble was resolved within a day, Dis-Chem encountered ongoing problems and saw a very low turnout at its Gauteng sites in the first half of last week.

Some public sector sites have also encountered a significant proportion of no-shows for scheduled appointments, according to Western Cape’s head of health, Keith Cloete.

Dis-Chem’s decision to send SMS reminders has dramatically reduced the no-show rate, which was as high as 80% early last week, said its national clinic manager, Lizeth Kruger.

While vaccination sites cannot choose who to inoculate, they can access the system to send reminders to people who have already been assigned an appointment, said Kruger.

Dis-Chem operates six Covid-19 vaccination sites in Gauteng, which had by Friday administered a total of 12,500 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech shot. It expects to open two sites in Cape Town and one in East London on Tuesday.

Kruger said Dis-Chem’s sites would continue to accept a limited number of walk-ins from eligible people who had registered on the system, depending on the availability of doses. “We have a co-ordinator at every site, who looks at the number of doses and the number of people waiting. If we are through our scheduled patients, they may take walk-ins.”

Dis-Chem aimed to provide on average 600 vaccines per site per day, and vaccinators are averaging between six and eight people per hour, she said. “We have had no waste in any of our sites in the past two weeks. We manage it to the T,” she said.

Dis-Chem is only accepting medical aid members and public sector patients with scheduled appointments, because the health department had yet to finalise a billing mechanism for non-medical scheme members, she said.

By Sunday evening, a total of 968,319 people had received their first Pfizer dose.


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