Queues at Groote Schuur Hospital P4 parking level, where staff from private hospitals across Cape Town are lining up to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)
Queues at Groote Schuur Hospital P4 parking level, where staff from private hospitals across Cape Town are lining up to be vaccinated against the Covid-19 virus. Picture: Tracey Adams/African News Agency (ANA)

Healthcare workers line up for Covid-19 jab, efficacy remains to be seen

By Sam Spiller Time of article published Feb 21, 2021

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Hundreds of healthcare workers queued to receive the Covid-19 Johnson & Johnson vaccine yesterday after the government launched its roll-out campaign.

Private healthcare workers were seen standing in snaking queues outside Groote Schuur and Tygerberg hospitals in Cape Town to get the jab. This comes after a number of government workers received the vaccination.

With the roll-out, South Africa enters an observation period on the efficacy of the vaccines.

The government’s Sisonke vaccine programme, which is spearheaded by the South African Medical Research Council, is expected to vaccinate 80 000 people in next two weeks.

Overall, 500 000 healthcare workers will be vaccinated, commencing from 18 public sector hospitals.

Ashley Ruiters, a medical technician at Khayelitsha District Hospital, said he had experienced few side-effects after being vaccinated on Thursday. “The only thing I had was quite a bit of a headache,” he said. “Other than that, I am perfectly fine.”

Ruiter’s vaccination comes a day after several healthcare workers and government officials at the facility were the first in South Africa to receive the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine. President Cyril Ramaphosa also attended and was vaccinated.

Ruiters described the mood in the hospital following the first vaccinations: “There is quite a bit of excitement around the staff about the vaccine and those I’ve spoken to. But you do get one or two who are still sceptical about it.”

Ruiters added he had received support from his family and friends in Eerste River. “They’re actually quite proud,” he said. “The messages and calls have been coming in like crazy.”

Another healthcare worker from Khayelitsha, nurse Nombini Ndzishe, said she was feeling well after being vaccinated on Wednesday. “No side-effects at all,” she added. “I'm very excited to have been vaccinated. My family and friends, especially my colleagues are looking forward to being vaccinated.”

Medical technician Ashley Ruiters was part of the first batch of healthcare workers to receive the Covid-19 Johnson & Johnson vaccine in Cape Town this week. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Ageny (ANA)

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, national co-ordinator of the Sisonke vaccine programme, said it was up to recipients to report any issues. “From a safety point of view, we are asking people to report any adverse events and we’re following up with any of those,” she explained. “If a healthcare worker goes to hospital with Covid-19 symptoms, we’re checking to see if they were vaccinated and if they are, we’re following them up.”

On Friday, the Western Cape Department of Health said that no incidents with vaccine recipients had been reported.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, of which South Africa has secured nine million doses, is reported to be effective against severe Covid-19 cases. This comes after the AstraZeneca vaccine, of which the government secured one million doses, was reported to have less efficacy against the 501Y.V2 variant of the virus, the dominant variant in the country.

Bekker said further monitoring of the virus and vaccine recipients was needed to determine the impact of future virus variants on the population.

Meanwhile, researchers at UCT are expected to commence clinical trials of a vaccine being developed by ImmunityBio and manufactured by NantKwest, after receiving approval from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority.

Professor Graeme Meintjes, who is co-investigator on the trial, said there was evidence that showed certain vaccines offered less protection against the 501Y.V2 variant, hence the need for alternatives. “I see the major role for this and similar vaccines is to address potential deficiencies that may arise with the first-generation vaccines - and I stress that at this stage these are potential deficiencies and time will tell how substantial these issues become,” he explained. “First, it is possible that immune responses induced by first-generation vaccines are not long lasting. Second, it may be that while they prevent severe disease, they are much less effective at preventing infection and transmission. And third, they may have substantially less activity against variants that arise - something we have already observed for certain vaccines.”

The trial is expected to commence this month at the Wellcome Centre for Infectious Diseases Research in Africa’s clinical research site in Khayelitsha.

The African Union's (AU) vaccine task team said on Friday that Russia had offered it 300 million doses of its Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine along with a financing package for countries wanting to secure the shots.

South Africa's health ministry said Sputnik V's manufacturers had submitted documentation to the local medicines regulator for registration.

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