We have put our faith in the vaccine and so should everyone else, say KZN doctors
Durban - Specialist physician Nerika Maharaj received the province’s first vaccine jab at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital where she along with specialist physicians Leosha Baldeo, Michelle Rajkaran and Thevaloshni Naidoo run the hospital’s Covid Unit.
The four of them told the SUNDAY TRIBUNE they were overcome by emotions after being vaccinated, calling the last few months the scariest and hardest of their over a decade long careers.
Maharaj said it was a privilege to be vaccinated as the same could not be said for her fallen colleagues.
“It is harrowing to see colleagues succumb to a virus which we are expected to take head-on. Thankfully, the four of us never tested positive. We have put our faith in the vaccine and so should everyone else. I hope it is the beginning of the end.”
The sense of helplessness and wanting to but being unable to do more was a struggle that Naidoo still wrestled with.
“It is heartbreaking to see colleagues and patients suffering or pass away due to Covid. You wrack your mind for solutions and pray for the answers to help them but there is unfortunately only so much we are able to do and these limitations are hard to come to terms with.”
But Rajkaran said although they were expected to fight the pandemic, normal life had to continue.
“Yes, we are front line healthcare workers but we are also wives, mothers and someone’s children. We still needed to home school our children, buy groceries and deliver them to our elderly parents and be pillars of strength.
“At one point, we wore masks full-time at home so our loved ones were protected. You become so paranoid that every little sniff or headache makes you wonder if this is the moment you brought Covid home to your family.”
Baldeo had sanitiser baths outside her house and kept boxes for her work clothes in her car to shield her family from becoming one of her patients.
“We have to do everything right because lives depended on it. We wear face masks, face shields, gumboots, gloves and overalls in the unit. We are covered head to toe, but we still can’t take that for granted and that’s why we take steps to ensure we don’t create victims.”
The four were thrilled to receive the vaccine but said there were feelings of guilt as colleagues from other hospitals anxiously awaiting their turn. They encouraged vaccination before heading off back into the hospital to fight for their patients.
The province vaccinated its first batch of frontline healthcare workers on Thursday almost a year after KwaZulu-Natal confirmed the country’s first Covid-19 case.
Ten thousand eight hundred doses of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine were allocated to the province from the country’s total 8 0000 which arrived late Tuesday evening.
Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital located in KZN’s largest township Umlazi received 5040 vaccine doses and Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital were allocated the remainder.
KZN health MEC Nomagugu Simelane-Zulu said hospitals that experienced the highest number of infections were prioritised with the next vaccinations likely to be at facilities in uMgungundlovu and Ilembe.
KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala said, to date, 15 400 provincial health workers contracted Covid-19 resulting in 323 deaths.
“We aim to vaccinate our 67 644 public sector health care staff; 9 292 medical doctors, dentists, pharmacists and emergency medical services; 390 interns; 34 279 nurses; 20 417 non-occupation specific dispensation staff; 2 639 allied health professional; 366 engineers/artisans; 256 staff providing social services; 1 4625 privately contracted staff working in the public sector; 5 939 traditional healers; 350 military health care staff; 6 699 NGO sector staff and 360 environmental health practitioners.”
The vaccinations form part of the Sisonke Programme which was a collaboration between the national health department, SA Medical Research Council, Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, CAPRISA, Janssen and Johnson & Johnson. Vaccine deliveries are expected every second week.
Elizabeth Spooner, interim deputy director of the SAMRC’s HIV Prevention Unit, said vaccines were stored at their research pharmacy.
“It is stored under armed guard with police surveillance and transported on a daily basis to the required vaccination centres by a police escort. We ensure the quality of the vaccine.”
Last month, Johnson & Johnson reported its findings on reactions to the vaccine from trials in the US, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico, Peru, and South Africa that included 44 000 volunteers.
It found most side-effects were fatigue, headache, muscle ache and pain at the injection site. The elderly reported lower complaint levels.
Side effects were mostly experienced on the day of immunisation or the next day.
Only 9% of those who received the vaccine as part of Johnson & Johnson trials reported a fever, only 0.2% suffered one above 39.0°C and below 40.0°C.
No one who received the vaccine saw a severe allergic reaction.