A toddler is left to her own devices on the busy Hope Street as homeless parents sleep on the pavement. Picture: Tracey Adams African News Agency (ANA)
A toddler is left to her own devices on the busy Hope Street as homeless parents sleep on the pavement. Picture: Tracey Adams African News Agency (ANA)

Concern over how homeless and undocumented people will access Covid-19 vaccine

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Feb 10, 2021

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Cape Town - Little has been said about how the national vaccine roll-out will include the homeless, undocumented foreign nationals and refugees, according to health professionals.

The Department of Health has developed an Electronic Vaccine Data System that will assist in the vaccination registration and roll-out process.

The system will allow for digital appointments by the individual seeking vaccination. This, however, poses challenges for large groups of people, including the homeless and undocumented non-citizens.

Wits University Associate Professor and director of the African Centre for Migration and Society, Jo Vearey, said non-citizens often experienced discrimination when trying to access public healthcare facilities.

Vearey said another concern for this group would be documentation.

“This is linked to issues around documentation and around misunderstandings between healthcare providers, particularly at the very front lines, receptionists and clerks for example.

“This means an individual’s documentation can be misunderstood, demands are incorrectly made for documents, and this can also lead to further fears for someone who might have an irregular status and whether or not this could lead them into getting into trouble.”

Different forms of documentation should be used for identification and not just an identity document, said Vearey.

“We need to also ensure that we are not requesting frontline healthcare workers to work as immigration officials. This is something that we increasingly see globally, and it is something that there has been tension around in the South African context for a while.”

Leaving anyone out of the vaccination programme would be putting everyone else’s lives at risk, said Vearey.

He said there was no room to employ politics and condemn vaccine nationalism on a global level when it was going to be implemented in the country on a national level.

U-turn Homeless Ministries chief operations officer Jon Hopkins said homeless people would naturally be included in the Phase 2 roll-out of the vaccine strategy, prioritising people in congregate settings, those over 60, and people with comorbidities.

“We know that approximately 2 500 homeless people in Cape Town are in homeless shelters across the City, and it makes sense that this group of people facing homelessness are vaccinated first, as they are at highest risk due to living in close quarters with others within the shelter,” said Hopkins.

He said homeless people faced an even greater risk of having comorbidities, as it had been well documented that homelessness and poor health are closely connected, and that access to healthcare while living on the street is limited.

“Too often the homeless are excluded, whether it is in voter registration drives, or the national 10-yearly census. Healthcare access is already poor among people living on the streets.

“With the vaccine roll-out, it is vital that those who are eligible from this particularly vulnerable segment of the population (which will be a high percentage) are not left out of the vaccine roll-out plan.”

During his speech on February 1, President Cyril Ramaphosa said: “We aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status.

“We will be putting in place measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history.”

Cape Argus

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