Western Cape vaccine strategy in place to ensure efficient rollout

The Western Cape Government has developed a strategy to ensure that vaccines are rolled out safely, efficiently and ethically when the first doses arrive in the Western Cape. 

The national Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize has indicated that the first of 1.5 million vaccines will arrive in the country by the end of the month, with more arriving by the end of February.  

We have already started the work to put the correct systems in place to manage this massive operation. 

The Western Cape Government’s vaccine strategy involves three phases: 

1 Health care workers: We have estimated that there are approximately 100 000 health care workers in the public and private sector. This number will also include community health care workers, care workers and health science students. 

2 Essential workers, those in congregate settings (such as care homes), those over 60 years old, and those over 18 with co-morbidities. 

3 General population. This will include anyone over 18. The vaccine has not been tested for safety in pregnant women and in children and will not be administered to these groups. 

We have appointed a vaccine advisory committee, made up of experts who will advise us on matters including science and ethics throughout the process. 

Managing the logistics: 

We have devised a process which will be followed for the rollout of the vaccines, in all three phases. 

Firstly, facilities offering vaccination, as well as those individuals doing the vaccinating will be pre-registered and accredited. 

The next step is the creation of a vaccination register which will be similar to a voters role and list those who require vaccinating. In this regard, we have started consultations with the IEC to share information about the systems they use.  

Those on the register will receive an appointment time and date, where they sign a consent form, receive their first dose, and an appointment date for their second dose. They will also be issued with proof of vaccination. 

On the appropriate date, the person will receive their second dose. 

We will also be putting in place data systems to track the progress of the rollout and vaccine coverage at an individual and community level. The National Department of Health has proposed a computer application system for this process, however, should there be any delays with this system, the Western Cape Government will have its own system and mitigating processes in place to avoid any delays. 

The process of vaccinating enough people to achieve “herd immunity” is a mammoth one and will require careful management, as well as the support of the public and private sectors as well as civil society. 

To this end, we have started engagements with organised labour, and will also be engaging civil society, business, religious communities and other stakeholders. 

Vaccines are a powerful weapon against COVID-19, but they cannot be the only tool available to us. We must at all times, continue to use infection prevention measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and hygiene in order to protect ourselves and our loved ones while vaccines are being rolled out. 

As we have done throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to share clear, honest information and data with members of the public on the availability, accessibility and acceptability of vaccines. 

Health care worker infections: 

As at 12 January, there were 1029 active COVID-19 infections among health care workers in the province.  

This includes 98 doctors, 442 nurses, 23 radiographers, 7 pharmacists and 459 people in other categories (admin, cleaning, catering and other categories of health care workers). 

This puts additional pressure onto the healthcare system as people have to isolate and quarantine, and also places additional stress on health care workers who are tired, anxious and who feel the psychological impact of the loss of colleagues, family members and friends. 

This is why it is critical that our health care workers, who are on our frontline, receive the first doses of the vaccine. 

The Western Cape Department of Health is also scaling up the system to provide on-site mental health and wellbeing support to health care workers. 

New appointments: 

The process of appointing additional health care workers is still underway. As of 11 January, a total of 286 additional staff had started in facilities across the province. Of these, 100 are based in the metro, and 186 are based in our rural regions. 

Western Cape second wave ‘peak’: 

There are early signs that we have entered our peak of the second wave in the province and our hospitalisations and mortality data reflect the significant pressure we are currently experiencing.  

In the metro, our case data continues to be affected by the festive season public holidays and a change in our testing criteria. However, we believe that it is a good sign at this stage that cases are not increasing but have decreased slightly by 1%. 

More reliable data such as the test positivity rate has dropped from a peak of 50%, to around 35% on 7 January.  

As at 7 January, we had recorded a 26% drop in hospitalisations as well. We have seen this tick up again over the past few days and we are watching closely to determine whether this is a trend. 

In our rural areas, we are also starting to see case numbers stabilise although we are still seeing increases in the West Coast and in the Central Karoo as they have experienced later surges. In the Garden Route, we continue to see numbers on a downward trajectory. 

We are cautiously optimistic that the second wave is starting to stabilise. This does not however mean that we are starting to see a decline yet and we must continue to take precautions to keep ourselves safe. 

Our hospitals are still experiencing significant pressure. Our metro hospitals have an average occupancy of 93%, the George drainage area 61&, Paarl drainage area 74% and Worcester drainage area at 73%. 

Our Hospital of Hope at Brackengate has 305 patients admitted, Freesia and Ward 99 have 67 patients, Sonstraal currently has 60 patients admitted and the Hospital of Hope in Mitchells Plain has 92 patients. 

Our Department of Health is working around the clock to ensure that at all times, we have an adequate supply of beds, staff, and oxygen to provide the care people need.  

Our hospitals and health care workers are working under extreme pressure to ensure that every person who needs a bed and care has access to one but we all have a role to play in ensuring that we relieve that pressure.  

We must wear our masks, wash our hands, keep our distance, avoid close contact and crowded spaces. This is the right thing to do to protect ourselves, and others and to flatten the curve.