By Jessie Taylor 

In the next step towards increasing the number of South Africans vaccinated against Covid-19, the South African government has expanded the vaccination programme to include over 500 000 teachers.

This is the first step in protecting essential workers outside of the healthcare sector against infection, creating safer workplaces and reducing the impact of staff illness.


Reaching vulnerable sectors

The vaccination of teachers is scheduled to run until 8 July 2021 to coincide with the end of the second school term. Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga said 582 000 people are to be vaccinated over 10 to 14 days.

“Those to be vaccinated are all PERSAL staff (as of April 2021) in DBE (educators, administrative and support staff) at all public schools; irrespective of their age; School Governing Body (SGB) appointed teachers, and those teachers employed by independent schools registered in terms of the South African Schools Act,” Minister Motshekga said.

The programme also looked to cover staff who transport children to and from schools; support the school feeding scheme; do remote learning programmes; and staff of teacher unions and other contracted staff who provide security, do cleaning, and other functions at school.

“Vaccination is voluntary but highly recommended so that everybody can be protected. Let us work together on this fight against Covid-19 in our spaces,” she said. 


Protecting the Education Sector 

The education sector will primarily be receiving a consignment of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines, as Aspen has made 300 000 doses available.

Teachers are one of the first groups of essential workers to be prioritised for vaccination.

Department of Health’s Director-General, Dr Sandile Buthelezi said those who work in sectors such as education, public service and administration, agriculture, forestry and fishing, electricity and transportation, are more susceptible to contracting the virus.

The rollout to teachers comes shortly after a significant setback in the country’s vaccination rollout.

South Africa has procured around 31 million J&J vaccines. The first two consignments – totalling two million doses – had been manufactured and were ready for distribution from pharmaceutical company Aspen when contamination concerns were raised.

The two million J&J vaccines at Aspen’s Gqeberha plant had to be destroyed because they contained an ingredient produced in a factory in Baltimore, where at least one batch was found to be contaminated.

This delay in delivering vaccines had dramatically slowed down the country’s vaccination rate, as supply shortages have made it difficult to vaccinate more than 80 000 people a day. This means South Africa is likely to fall short of the goal of vaccinating 90% of people 60 and older (roughly five million people) vaccinated by the end of June.


Building on business relationships

However, despite the setback in vaccine procurement, South African businesses have been forming partnerships to assist the government in administering vaccines.

Business for South Africa (B4SA) has been driving the collaboration of the public and private sector. Business for South Africa (B4SA) is an alliance of South African volunteers working with the South African government, other social partners, and various stakeholders to mobilise business resources and capacity to combat the Covid-19 pandemic.

Large-scale partnerships with pharmacy groups and medical aids have already come online. Recently, Discovery Health entered an agreement with the Western Cape Health Department and the City of Cape Town to manage a mass vaccination site at the Cape Town International Convention Centre (CTICC). This site, which can vaccinate around 4000 people a day, is expected to open at the end of July.

Ryan Noach, CEO of Discovery Health, said: “Discovery has worked closely with the National Department of Health and B4SA to support various aspects of South Africa’s Covid-19 response and the National Mass Vaccination Programme. We are delighted to further this work by partnering with the Western Cape Government and the City of Cape Town to accelerate the rollout of the vaccination campaign in Cape Town. We are particularly proud that this site will provide access to vaccines for all residents, including Discovery Health members, members of other medical schemes and people who do not have medical aid.”


Private vaccination sites 

In addition, more than 110 private vaccination sites have come online, and some of South Africa’s largest employers are now looking to open at least 90 workplace sites. This could vaccinate an additional 24 000 people a day, depending on vaccine supply.

The mining industry is expected to be the most significant contributor initially, with more than 40 workplace sites planned to administer around 17 500 doses daily. These sites will be joined by other businesses in the agriculture and industrial sector once the department of health has received approval.

These vaccines are not only vital in ensuring South Africans are protected against infection but will also have far-reaching economic impacts – reducing the number of hours lost to staff being booked off and associated medical costs in caring for them.

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