This is how vaccinations will be done, and the IEC is at the heart of planning

12 January 2021 - 18:14
By Sipokazi Fokazi
More than 100,000 health workers in the Western Cape are to be vaccinated.  The Electoral Commission (IEC) will be called in to help.
Image: Alaister Russell/The Sunday Times More than 100,000 health workers in the Western Cape are to be vaccinated. The Electoral Commission (IEC) will be called in to help.

About 100,000 health-care workers in the Western Cape are set to be vaccinated against Covid-19 as provincial authorities gear themselves up for what is arguably the biggest vaccination programme the country has seen.

The head of health in the province, Dr Keith Cloete, said on Tuesday that health-care workers in the public and private sectors, including students, community health workers and people working in health-care centres and the military, will be prioritised in the first phase.

The second phase will also target essential workers, including police, teachers, municipal workers and other vulnerable people, including those who live in crowded communities and the elderly, while the third phase will see those over 18 vaccinated.

Cloete said children and pregnant women will not be vaccinated as none of the Covid-19 vaccines has been tested on these two groups.

Cloete, who addressed journalists at premier Alan Winde’s weekly Covid-19 media conference, said all arrangements to roll out the vaccine are on track.

An advisory committee meeting of experts on Wednesday is expected to advise provincial health authorities on ethical and technical matters.

The committee also worked closely with the private sector co-ordinating committee to model how immunisation will be carried out, the logistics of vaccination, the storage of vaccines, tracking stock and monitoring adverse reactions to the vaccine.

A stringent process will require vaccination facilities to be preregistered and accredited. “Then, second, there will be a registration process. Everybody who needs to be vaccinated needs to be entered on to a vaccine register. It's almost like the voters' roll,” said Cloete.

Cloete said the authorities were also talking to the Electoral Commission (IEC). “We are learning from them about the systems they use. Then each person will be given an appointment to say you will go to that place at that time. Someone will be expecting you, and when you arrive, you will sign consent.

“You get your first dose, you get your appointment for your second dose, and you will be issued a proof of vaccination and registered on an electronic system that you received a vaccine.

“And then you'll have the second dose and that's the completion of vaccination. All of this will be supported by adequate supplies, the infrastructure, the skilled people and the data systems to be able to track all of this.”

Cloete said vaccinating millions of people in a space of a few months is a mammoth undertaking and the IEC's help with logistics is key.

“We have learnt quite a lot from them in relation to that. And they have been quite willing to work with us on methodologies, approaches, systems that could be of value to us. We will then incorporate those learnings into the logistics of setting up for this.”

Cloete said because vaccination is a medical procedure, confidentiality and patient consent would be intrinsic to the rollout. “We will not be compromising any of that.”

Early signs of the Western Cape entering the peak of its second wave of Covid-19 included a fall in the test positivity rate from 50% to around 35% on January 7.

“As at January 7, we had recorded a 26% drop in hospitalisations as well. We have seen this tick up again over the past few days and we are watching closely to determine whether this is a trend,” said Cloete.

“In our rural areas, we are also starting to see case numbers stabilise though we are still seeing increases in the West Coast and in the Central Karoo as they have experienced later surges.

“In the Garden Route, we continue to see numbers on a downward trajectory. We are cautiously optimistic that the second wave is starting to stabilise. This does not, however, mean that we are starting to see a decline yet and we must continue to take precautions to keep ourselves safe.

“Our hospitals are still experiencing significant pressure. Our metro hospitals have an average occupancy of 93%.

“Our hospitals and health-care workers are working under extreme pressure to ensure that every person who needs a bed and care has access ... but we all have a role to play in ensuring that we relieve that pressure.”

Cloete said while hospitals are under pressure, they are not overwhelmed. Trauma cases had also since dropped by more than 60% since the ban on alcohol before the end of December.

“I can go on the record and tell you not a single emergency centre in the Western Cape has turned away any patients. If anybody needed to be hospitalised, they have been hospitalised. We  are under pressure but I can give the assurance that we are not overwhelmed,” he said.