Anxiety and excitement as vaccination of SA's education staff begins

It's hoped after months of disruptions, schooling will be able to return to some normalcy as employees in the sector across the country started receiving their jabs on Wednesday.

Gauteng Education MEC Panyaza Lesufi (right) alongside Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga (centre) and Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla (left) joining the first group of educators at Rabasotho Community Centre in Tembisa who have heeded the call to get the COVID-19 vaccination. Picture: @EducationGP1/Twitter.

JOHANNESBURG/CAPE TOWN - Basic Education Minister Angie Motshekga on Wednesday said her department was determined to reach its target of inoculating over 580,000 teachers and support staff in the sector.

The department aims to reach this target over the next two weeks.

It's hoped after months of disruptions, schooling will be able to return to some normalcy as employees in the sector across most provinces started receiving their jabs on Wednesday.

“We’re the ones who put the timelines to say we need two weeks because we don’t want to disrupt schooling and when we close on 8 July, we want to be done. So that when we come back in the next term, we’re done with vaccination and that’s why we put ourselves under so much pressure,” the minister said.

Motshekga visited various vaccination sites where teachers were receiving their jab on Wednesday.

LIMPOPO TO START ON FRIDAY, MPUMALANGA OFFICIALS BUST MYTHS

While most provinces launched government's vaccination drive for those in the education sector, officials have continued to call on those reluctant to take the jab to ignore myths around the COVID-19 vaccines.

Deputy Basic Education Minister Reginah Mhaule launched the vaccination drive in Mpumalanga, encouraging educators who still had reservations around getting vaccinated to ignore the myths and focus on the facts.

“Let’s take this in a positive way, let’s not follow all the people that are saying whatever they want to say.”

In the North West, Education MEC Mmaphefo Matsemela was among the first group of people to receive the jab on Wednesday morning at the Boitekong community health centre.

Officials in Limpopo are doing their last-minute preparations to begin vaccinating educators and support staff in that province from Friday.

GAUTENG HAS MIXED REACTION

There's been mixed reaction from teaching staff receiving their COVID-19 vaccines in Gauteng on Wednesday.

Over 125,000 teaching staff in the province are set to receive the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The rollout is vital given the high number of infections in Gauteng; to date over 1,000 teachers and nearly 2,000 pupils have tested positive for COVID-19 - while over 20 schools had to close at some point.

After a brief wait in the winter sun at the Rabasotho community hall in Tembisa, teachers and other school were taken into the hall where nurses at one of the eight vaccination areas administered the vaccine.

As COVID-19 infection rates at schools mirror the prevalence of cases in surrounding communities, these anxious but relieved essential workers said they were grateful to get the jab.

“Every day when you wake up, you don’t know if you’re going to contract the virus or not [so that’s why I’m here],” said one education staffer.

“I’ve been so anxious, especially because we’re dealing with kids. It was just a hard time for us,” added another.

Despite getting the vaccine, some were doubtful it would help curb infections as pupils from grades R to 7 are expected to return to class under the traditional timetable next month.

NORTHERN CAPE AND EASTERN CAPE WERE 'FULLY READY'

The process of vaccinating more than 76,000 Eastern Cape educators and other support staff began on Wednesday.

Education department officials in the province said 66 vaccination sites started administering shots to workers in the sector.

Thirteen people have succumbed to the disease in the Eastern Cape and 385 new coronavirus cases have been recorded over the past 24-hour period.

The provincial education department said all vaccination sites targeting workers in the basic education sector were ready to inoculate healthcare workers from early in the morning.

Department's spokesperson Malibongwe Mtima said sites had been established in a way that made it easily accessible for the vaccine recipients.

“Everyone must go because we don’t want a situation where someone is left behind.”

Meanwhile, in the Northern Cape, education spokesperson Lehuma Ntuane urged teaching staff to make use of this vaccination opportunity.

“We have prepped all our districts in terms of the schedule thereof, wherein educators were expected to arrive at a certain time and on a specific day.”

The province plans to vaccinate 16,100 educators and staff from Wednesday until 8 July.

WESTERN CAPE STARTS OFF WITH ONE VACCINATION SITE

The Western Cape also started vaccinating the first group of teachers in Pinelands earlier on Wednesday.

The province has received 55,000 vaccine doses and started vaccinating the first group of teachers at the Western Cape Emergency Metro Services site in Pinelands - one of 29 across the province - earlier on Wednesday.

They were sitting in rows of 10, waiting patiently for the site manager to call out their number.

“We are moving people, we are moving… I need a chair. Thank you very much,” shouted the queue marshal at that vaccination site.

Eugenia Paulo-Goagoses from Masiphathisane Primary School in the West Coast was the first educator to be vaccinated.

A smile lit up her face as she took her seat in cubicle 11 and got her jab.

“I believe in being a solution-based person. So, hopefully this is a solution that will work for all of us. I would say put your faith in the Almighty that this can help us go back to our sense of normalcy and I would definitely say go for it.”

This is the only site that is active in the Western Cape for now but provincial authorities said more sites would be coming online on Friday.

IN KZN, YOU LOSE OUT IF YOU DON'T VACCINATE NOW

The KwaZulu-Natal education department said it wouldn’t let staff work from home if they had refused to be vaccinated even if they had comorbidities.

The province's Education MEC Kwazi Mshengu spoke to the media in KwaMashu, north of Durban, where he was overseeing the inoculation of education sector workers.

He said while no teacher would be forced to take the J&J jabs that were on offer, educators needed to understand that certain privileges would fall away after the inoculation process.

Mshengu said they planned to inoculate 127,000 educators at 70 vaccination sites across KwaZulu-Natal.

He urged all educators to participate in the COVID-19 vaccination drive.

“If you don’t vaccinate, there are things you can no longer claim, like saying you have comorbidities and you want to work from home. At least the government has provided an opportunity for you to vaccinate.”

The provincial education department said between 23 March and 22 June this year, there were 458 recorded COVID-19 cases at schools within the province.

Most of those were pupils, but 112 educators and 23 support staff members also tested positive during the course of those three months.

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