Spatial analysis done on more than 5 000 communities in the Eastern Cape shows that most people have to travel over 5 kilometers to access a health facility. This has resulted in the provincial government considering using schools when the coronavirus vaccine is being rolled out.

Schools in rural areas and townships have been earmarked for vaccination as they are close to communities.

In the midst of the pandemic, many still lack basic services. Like many others, 50-year-old Sindiwe Kameni receives her chronic medication monthly.

However, the nearest health facility is 20 kilometers away from her house. Meaning she has to wake up as early as 4 am, to beat the long queues at the clinic. She also has knee problems, and every step she takes is exhausting and painful.

Rainy days like today, mean a week delay in getting her medication, as they are only handed out on specific days.

“I have sleepless nights before I have to go get my medication. I can’t sleep at night, I toss and turn because I’m thinking about the long road I have to travel to go and get my meds, on top of that my knee hurts so much and I have to keep taking breaks. When I eventually get to the clinic I still have to wait close to 7 hours in the queue before I’m attended to. I fully support the plan to make schools vaccinating sites at least then it will  be closer walking distance for me and perhaps shorter cues.”

This is the plight of most residents in some informal settlements and rural parts of the Eastern Cape. However Provincial government plans to use more than 2 800 schools as vaccination centres in the province.

Provincial health is waiting on the National Health Department to guide them on the safety requirements for the vaccination rollout.

Acting provincial head of health department Dr Sibongile Zungu. “We are looking at engaging the department of education and already we have presented to them to see what we can do, to make schools a suitable vaccination site. We need to observe issues of infection control, we have to also look at the layout for the processing of the vaccination process, to ensure that there is space for vaccination that is secure and also space for waiting, to ensure that when people are vaccinated, they can wait so that we can observe for adverse events. what must be understood is that we’re not going to store vaccines at a school, because the school is not a building for that purpose.”

Meanwhile, Eastern Cape Premier Advisor Dr Thobile Mbengashe says a collaborative effort by the provincial department of health will ensure that the rollout of the vaccine is a success.

“We are going to be working with a lot of partners, because vaccination is actually much easier than treating patients because with vaccination you have got one useful effective intervention which is a vaccine that needs a simple system to administer, in this case, you need a vaccine, you need an injection and its actually not invasive in your body because it just goes onto your muscle, that can be done by very well trained lower levels health professionals under the guidance of higher people. So we anticipate that the task shifting and really moving and using some people that we have, we are going to be able. What’s going to be important about the vaccine programme is that It has to be resolved and be used from the bottom and we need to bring it to where people live. We are going to be using multi facilities, like clinics, hospitals, non-health systems, where people are working, where people are staying in community halls.”

However, unions have given conditional approval for the use of schools to administer COVID-19 vaccinations in the province.

SADTU secretary in the Eastern Cape Chris Mdingi elaborates, “As a union, we will always support anything that improves the lives of our people especially something that is going to help our people fight against the virus. So we fully support  the use of schools as vaccine sites but we ask that the school be left the way they were and that all safety protocols  be observed  so that even during  vaccination no one gets infected.”

The Eastern Cape Health Department says it plans to vaccinate 3.7 million people within six to nine months. – Report by Lwando Nomoyi