Relief: SA health workers get their vaccinations. Picture: Alon Skuy
Relief: SA health workers get their vaccinations. Picture: Alon Skuy

SA has joined more than 90 nations that have started to dispense coronavirus vaccines. That’s something to celebrate.

Thanks to some fancy footwork and barely any sleep, SA Medical Research Council president Prof Glenda Gray and health minister Zweli Mkhize this month rescued the government’s vaccine rollout with a swift pivot to the Johnson & Johnson jab after plans to launch with AstraZeneca’s shot were torpedoed at the eleventh hour by bad news about its efficacy.

With great relief, last Wednesday shots began going into the arms of health-care workers at public hospitals around SA. This was the start of phase 1 of the vaccine strategy, targeting 1.25-million health-care workers.

It has become obvious that health-care workers who have signed up on the government’s electronic vaccine data system have not been getting clear instructions about when and where they will be vaccinated, nor are they being told how vaccination sites are prioritising recipients.

Some private sector employees figured out they could game the system by claiming they worked at a public hospital designated as a vaccination site, and bump themselves up the queue. And so Pretoria’s Steve Biko Academic Hospital was overwhelmed at the weekend by hundreds of doctors queuing for jabs.

It’s easy to castigate health-care workers for diddling the system. But after almost a year of dealing with the pandemic, and seeing their peers sicken and die, health-care workers are desperate for better protection. Their faith in the vaccine is clearly not matched by faith in the government’s capacity to deliver the jab.

There’s an important lesson here for the state: it’s not health-care workers who are to blame, but the system.

That needs to be fixed, and fast, or the next stage of the vaccine rollout — which targets 16-million people — will descend into chaos.

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