DURBAN - THE KwaZulu-Natal Health Department’s vaccination statistics for two days last week paint a gloomy picture of how health workers are dragging their feet when it comes to getting Covid-19 vaccinations.
Statistics made available by the provincial Health Department show that 20 302 health-care workers (HCWs) have not been vaccinated.
Despite the department urging HCWs to get vaccinated, only 16 approached a vaccine site to get their first Covid-19 vaccination on November 17 and only six approached the vaccination sites on November 19.
Of the Johnson & Johnson booster doses, the department said a total of 12 424 doses had been administered at public and private sites in the province.
Ntokozo Nxumalo, regional organiser for the National Education Health & Allied Workers Union (Nehawu), said the union was not shocked by the statistics. Nxumalo accused the provincial department of failing to continue with the work of a task team that at the height of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout programme regularly engaged with them on issues of concern.
He added that Nehawu felt the recent election campaign had derailed a lot of progress that had been made, and frontline workers needed to be engaged with in order to be convinced about having the vaccine before they could encourage the general public to vaccinate.
“The task team was crucial for us, as we cannot allay fears as stakeholders without knowledge of what the provincial department plan is, and have their guidance. You cannot assume that just because these are nurses and doctors, they automatically understand. They need to be engaged with and provided with information on why there is a booster campaign,” said Nxumalo.
Mandla Shabangu, Democratic Nursing Organisation of SA provincial secretary, agreed that there was resistance by health workers to getting vaccinated and that this could be attributed to a lack of consultation.
“The problem with the booster vaccine campaign is that it has not been communicated properly with the health workers, and therefore it should come as no surprise that they are not coming forward.”
Dr Sandile Tshabalala, head of department for the KZN Health Department, acknowledged that the number of HCWs who had returned for a booster shot or had come for an initial Covid-19 vaccine was concerning.
Tshabalala said the announcement by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) regarding a possible Pfizer booster vaccine would also add confusion and they would be calling an urgent meeting with all stakeholders soon.
“We understand that the initial messaging that some of the vaccines would be done once (J&J), and another twice (Pfizer), and then this changing to a booster and possible third dose, would alarm workers and the public.
“We will be guided by the national office on the intent of boosters, but what we know is that the vaccines at this moment may not have an initially anticipated long antibody life and would require a booster to keep them working,” said Tshabalala.
Yesterday Sahpra announced that Pfizer, which had a two-dose vaccine, had applied to provide a third vaccine booster shot.
Dr Boitumelo Semete, CEO of Sahpra, said that the regulatory body had received an application from Pfizer for the third booster vaccine.
“Sahpra will now commence with the assessment of data for the safety and efficacy of the third dose,” said Semete.