Pretoria - As health professionals work to increase the number of vaccinated people, to create herd immunity and reduce the chance of prolonged infection, the University of Pretoria has stepped in.
The institution-run Community Oriented Primary Care (COPC) Research Unit has embarked on a mission to vaccinate undocumented communities in and around Gauteng.
Unit head Professor Jannie Hugo said undocumented people were often most at risk of disease as they were unable or reluctant to access health care.
“They are therefore an important group of people in terms of public health and the control of the pandemic. To give them access to health care and vaccination is important for the welfare of everyone in society.”
He said the programme began in September, as part of an effort to reach people in need, including homeless people.
“The programme includes people who use drugs and people in informal settlements. Actual vaccination started in October,” Hugo said.
Identification is needed when vaccinating, which poses a challenge for those without any identification, but as the programme in collaboration with several partners continues, they are working towards getting over this challenge, Hugo said.
Documented people receive a vaccination certificate as proof of vaccination, and those without get a general health check and are given a patient-retained record, the Road to Linked Care booklet, at the COPC vaccination sites. “All relevant health information as well as the vaccination information is documented in this booklet. Their information is also recorded in the government’s Electronic Vaccination Data System, and our research database,” Hugo said.
The programme comes after an uproar from stakeholders over the exclusion of undocumented people, as the system requires an identity number. The C19 People’s Coalition, during their campaign for Covid-19 vaccinations, said the government had to step up and protect the most vulnerable communities, among them undocumented people.
They said they saw no effort being made to include this community, and lauded the programme run by the University of Pretoria.
Said Hugo: “In order to be vaccinated at one of our sites, people are required to bring any type of photo identity and health information that they have with them.“
There are currently over 40 pop-up sites, stationary sites, community organisations and district health services. Stationary sites are at the Hillbrow Community Health Centre, at Tembisa Hospital and at the Daspoort Clinic in Tshwane.
The university's COPC programme is able to access those without identification by working with organisations which are trusted by the communities.
They include Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), Section27, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Red Cross, IOM (International Organisation for Migration) as well as religious organisations.
They are also working with the Department of Health, which said various stakeholders, local and international, had been engaged in pilot projects on the vaccination of undocumented persons.
Hugo explained that vaccinating the undocumented was important if the province, which had a high infection rate, and the country were to curb the spread of the pandemic, and they would move to other provinces once the programme had proved successful.
The success of the programme depended on collaborations, Hugo added. “And with partners from the international community, local NGOs and the religious community leaders, the departments of health and local government, this programme has moved into informal settlements and to inner cities where a lot of homeless people live.”