Vaccine hesitancy: CEOs of Steve Biko, Chris Hani Baragwanath hospitals worried

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto has been inoculating health care workers and its CEO, Dr Nkele Lesia, said more needs to be done to educate the public to ensure they turnout at the vaccination sites.

A vaccinator at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG – The chief executive officers (CEOs) of two prominent public hospitals in Gauteng have been concerned about hesitancy among citizens when it comes to signing up for the COVID-19 vaccine when the second phase kicks off on Monday.

The Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto has been inoculating healthcare workers and its CEO, Dr Nkele Lesia, said more needed to be done to educate the public to ensure they turnout at the vaccination sites.

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At the same time, the CEO of Steve Biko Academic Hospital in Pretoria, Dr Mathabo Mathebula, was hoping there won't be a stall in the vaccine procurement process – as seen worldwide – which could have an impact on those already hesitant about getting vaccinated.

So far, 455,000 health workers have received the jab through the Sisonke Vaccine Program, which ends on Saturday.

A healthcare worker in Gauteng received her jab on Thursday and said it took her a while to make the final decision.

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"I was scared. I waited for people at my work [to] see how they are, then I took the conscious decision to say, ‘you know what? Let me go.'"

Dr Lesia said given the hesitancy seen among healthcare workers already, she hoped the process would gain momentum and people would trust the vaccines.

“I think it's hesitancy. People think there may be adverse events and the issue of starting and stopping also affects [their decision].”

At the same time, Dr Mathebula said it was important that when the second phase kicked off, it wouldn't lose momentum due to a shortage of vaccines.

“We are hoping that when you are given a specific date, you are able to be vaccinated, and there shouldn’t be a stage where we are running out of vaccines or the people who turn up are too many.”

The CEOs said lessons had been learned during the Sisonke trial programme where health workers had been jabbed, but they were hopeful that the system would be improved to increase public confidence.

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Protocol leadership member of the Sisonke vaccine trial professor Ian Sanne said help was on the way for overburdened health facilities, with government due to announce many more additional vaccination sites in a bid to avoid long queues.

Sanne said government was due to make an announcement on the additional sites this weekend.

“I think the minister will announce 178 new public sites across the country and we’re hoping to have a long list of private sector sites, the submissions are all being completed, and everything is being checked at the moment.”

He said some of those sites would be located within pharmacies and others would be situated in larger venues, which could vaccinate up to 4,000 people per day.

“What has really come to the fore is that pharmacies across the country are likely to be the first group that would have what we call smaller sites. Our medium sites will be handling around 1,000 to 1,500 vaccinations per day and the bigger sites will do around 4,000 vaccinations a day.”

Long queues of health workers have been forming at public health facilities, with medical professionals hoping to get their jabs with only two days left before the Sisonke trial comes to an end.

Sanne said just on Thursday at the Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, they had to turn away 500 health workers who were queuing for a jab without an appointment.

On Friday morning, there are reports of long queues outside the Milpark Hospital.

“I’ve just come back from Milpark, traffic is absolutely chaotic. People are impatient, rude and uncourteous,” said one commuter.

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