Healthcare workers anxious about Covid-19 vaccine roll-out
Cape Town - With a third wave and a new Covid-19 variant (N501Y) on the horizon, increasingly overworked and fatigued healthcare workers have expressed anxiety about the looming roll-out of vaccines.
Almost 9 000 healthcare professionals in the province have been infected with Covid-19 since the outbreak of the second wave.
Of those, 3 938 were nurses, 793 doctors, 81 pharmacists, 107 radiographers and 3 842 other staff members in the healthcare system. Of these, 115 succumbed to the virus, leaving 137 active cases.
Earlier this week, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the much-anticipated Johnson & Johnson vaccine due to arrive next week would be used to inoculate health-care workers.
However, nurse Daniel Eksteen said he is not certain if he would be taking the vaccine at this stage.
“The research indicated that the vaccine is not effective for this strain, and with it constantly mutating, how can we be sure that the new vaccine will be effective. I don’t know enough about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, but I can safely say if the president says we will not be forced to take the vaccine, then we will not reach herd immunity at the time that we are supposed to in order to be able to fight off the virus. And with all the myths going around about the vaccines, it is clear that we will live with this virus for some time,” he said.
The uncertainties around vaccines do not make it easier on the healthcare system, which, according to the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa), may see a resurgence due to the unbanning of alcohol sales.
Denosa has tabled its concerns about the relaxed Covid-19 lockdown regulations, saying they put healthcare workers at risk.
The organisation is “extremely nervous about the adjusted restrictions because that is how we got into the second wave in the first place by introducing alcohol sales into the market, and then facilities started to experience increasing levels of a number of people admitted, and we started to see the deaths of many patients from Covid-19-related illnesses’’.
Healthcare workers say they are anxiously waiting for the third wave as the number of deaths and infections ‘’has left them depressed, anxious, and exhausted physically, mentally and emotionally and with no psychological support,” said Denosa spokesperson Sibongiseni Delihlazo.
Delihlazo said they are concerned by the adjustments to the level 3 restrictions. “We extremely nervous about the adjusted restrictions because that is how we got into the second wave in the first place; by introducing alcohol sales into the market and then facilities started to experience increasing levels of the number of people admitted, and we started to see the deaths of many patients from Covid-19-related illnesses’’.
Head of the Western Cape Health Department, doctor Keith Cloete, said during the department’s weekly digicon that while AstraZeneca/Covishield vaccine was put on hold, more research would need to be conducted on both vaccines.
“The Pfizer vaccine is said to be 95% effective in its initial trails. Recent laboratory studies have shown that while antibody reproduction against 501Y.V2 is reduced, it is still effective against the 501Y.V2. There are no in vivo (clinical) studies to prove its efficacy against 501Y.V2, and the Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine has shown 57% efficacy in South Africa (including patients with 501Y.V2) and 85% efficacy against severe diseases,” he said.
Between 300 000 and 500 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be made available and used as part of an open table clinic trial in health-care workers. However, the vaccine will be registered for use in 12 weeks time.
Meanwhile, Premier Alan Winde has requested a meeting with South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) several weeks ago in order to have a direct engagement with them on two issues. These are: “To understand the approvals processes required for vaccines and to have a discussion on the trials and approvals for therapeutics which could help in the fight against Covid-19”.
Winde’s spokesperson Bianca Capazorio said: “The province has not yet procured its own vaccine, the Western Cape Government may fund its vaccine acquisition by re-prioritising the existing budget, mobilising alternative sources of funding, and if necessary, drawing on provincial reserves.”
Capazorio added that there are a number of complex process that need to take place before procurement could begin in earnest.
“This includes completing, up front, a thorough demand forecasting and planning market analysis and the appropriate procurement modality. We need to properly understand demand in our market and at the same time, determine what product is available to us, in a rapidly changing market. Alongside this, there is a regulatory analysis underway. There are complex medical and financial regulatory issues which first need to be assessed,” she said.
When asked whether healthcare workers had received sufficient training on the vaccines, Capazorio said: “Vaccinators, who already have their training and experience as a foundation, are undergoing comprehensive training on the vaccines and their safe administration. There will be regular update training made available to them as new vaccines are introduced etc. We are confident that the vaccines will be administered safely and ethically.”