KZN health MEC slams DA accusations that she 'instructed' hospital to postpone vaccinations

17 February 2021 - 19:06
By orrin singh AND Orrin Singh
KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu.

KwaZulu-Natal health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu has come under fire from the DA  in the province, which claims she gave an instruction to postpone the vaccination of about 40 health-care workers on Wednesday. 

The DA claims the instruction was made on a WhatsApp group consisting of staff members from the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital. 

But the health department slammed the claims, saying the DA was trying to "hijack, distort and misrepresent" its vaccination roll-out plans in the province.

"This is a typical DA modus operandi: creating a smokescreen and telling blatant lies in a desperate bid to grab the media headlines. This time, they have shamefully tried to steal the limelight ahead of our official launch of the vaccination programme tomorrow [Thursday].

"Contrary to the lies being peddled by the DA, we did not 'block' any health-care workers from being vaccinated today. We have always said that our vaccinations will start a day or two after the National Department of Health. This is to ensure that the process goes off smoothly," the department said in statement.

The allegation comes as health-care workers across the country were inoculated with the Johnson & Johnson vaccination on Wednesday.

Two state facilities in Durban, the Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital and the Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, formed part of a national list of 18 hospitals that were meant to receive vaccinations on Wednesday. 

This list was confirmed as accurate by national health spokesperson Popo Maja.

A screenshot from the group, which TimesLIVE is in possession of, shows the Albert Luthuli CEO, Dr Thandeka Khanyile, informing staff members that the vaccinations would not go ahead on Wednesday. 

"Colleagues, please note the MEC has requested that we hold any plans of vaccinating anyone today," the message, sent at 10.54am, reads.

In a statement, the DA KZN spokesperson on health, Dr Rishigen Viranna, demanded Simelane-Zulu account for the alleged instruction. 

"The DA is deeply concerned by this instruction. While it seems that the team are ready to begin vaccinating immediately, with the vaccinations having arrived and 40 doses already defrosting and waiting to go into arms – the MEC has put a stop to it," Viranna said.

Sources within the hospital confirmed to TimesLIVE that the vaccine would be arriving on Wednesday. TimesLIVE further confirmed this with police who were stationed at the hospital.

A staff member said the vaccines were meant to arrive at 1pm from King Shaka International Airport with the vaccination process expected to commence at 2pm. By 3pm no vaccines had arrived, and TimesLIVE was informed that they were being held at the Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA).

In a statement, the provincial department said a media briefing would be held on Thursday during the official launch of the Covid-19 vaccine roll out, at which premier Sihle Zikalala and Simelane-Zulu would preside over the vaccinations at Prince Mshiyeni hospital.

Viranna said: "It is difficult to comprehend why she would make such a move, particularly when she already knows that KZN’s health-care workers are among the worst affected groups when it comes to Covid-19. The DA can only assume that the reason the MEC stopped the vaccinations is because she wanted to be there today.

"The KwaZulu-Natal provincial legislature is conducting school functionality oversight inspections. Traditionally, MECs join these oversight visits as district champions." 

The department said that CAPRISA and the Medical Research Council requested a "dry-run" of the process on Wednesday, which had been granted.

"So, the grandstanding by the DA is really unnecessary, and once again exposes a shallow, desperate and self-serving party that will stop at nothing to associated itself with a process that has absolutely nothing to do with it.

"We are not a Banana Republic, where things are done in an unco-ordinated and haphazard manner. We have a solid and clear plan to launch the vaccination programme tomorrow [Thursday], and have issued a formal invitation to the media in this regard.

"At this media briefing, all the pertinent details will be revealed, including, among others, how the vaccine will be distributed, who will be prioritised, and how we will ensure that the vaccine reaches all individuals who qualify to be vaccinated. 

"We will not bow to any pressure from the DA, or from any other supposed stakeholder or pressure group, who want to pursue an agenda that seeks to serve them and not the people of KwaZulu-Natal.

"We also want to caution staff who want to get ahead of internal processes, or those who leak false information to the media, that such conduct will not be tolerated," the department said.