Public sector health unions in the North West have lambasted the provincial Health Department for a slow rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine. Although the department has already vaccinated about 85% of healthcare workers across the province in a month and a half, unions maintain the rollout needs to be expedited to move to the next phase of vaccinating the public.

The vaccine rollout in the North West started in mid-February. The provincial health department set a time frame of the first three months to focus on phase one of the programme, which focuses on healthcare workers. So far, more than 17 000 of the more than 20 000 healthcare workers in the province have already been vaccinated.

Unions representing the workers, including the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) and the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) are not impressed by the pace of vaccination.

Nehawu’s Provincial Secretary, Patrick Makhafane, explains: “The slow movement tells you that there’s a problem in the system. The department must ensure that it unlocks the challenges in the system because we’re dealing with people’s lives. By now we should be having a better number.”

His counterpart in the public health sector is Kedibone Mdolo, the acting provincial secretary of Denosa in the North West. She concurs with Nehawu.

“We were promised that 1.2 million health workers at the end of the first quarter and this was a boost of morale for the nurses in particular. Nonetheless, the slow phase of the vaccine rollout is demoralizing amongst the health care workers,” says Mdolo.

Third-wave possibility

Some healthcare workers, who have not yet been vaccinated, are worried about the possible third wave.

“As front line workers our concern is that we are anticipating the third wave of COVID-19. So for now we have not received the vaccination. So for now, we have seen the experience of COVID-19,” one tells SABC News.

“The reason why I haven’t vaccinated is that I’m an ex-COVID. We are supposed to stay for three months before vaccination. I think after three months, I’ll consider vaccination,” some healthcare workers say.

The public is also slowly losing hope of getting vaccinated soon enough.

“The vaccine is taking too long for us, especially here in the rural areas and the small towns,” says one South African citizen.

“The Johnson and Johnson vaccine, the way it’s moving and the way they presented it, it’s very slow,” adds another.

The North West Department of Health, however, feels differently. It says it has been moving at a faster pace than initially expected. Departmental Spokesperson, Tebogo Lekgethwane, says despite their fast pace, they want to speed up the process.

“The department truly wants to speed up, and looking at the numbers province to province against the population here, I think it’s not bad. We have a total of 20 539 health workers which is inclusive of doctors, nurses, and allied, and out of this number, we have 17 000 who have been vaccinated. The total doses that we have are also key in reaching the entire province,” says Lekgethwane.

So far, the North West has recorded over 64 000 coronavirus cases, with 1 496 deaths.

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