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Jumping the queue in vaccine free-for-all at Charlotte Maxeke

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Members of the community – among others – this week flocked to Charlotte Maxeke Johannesburg Academic Hospital following rumours that the COVID-19 jab was available to anyone who arrived.

Previously, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was only available to healthcare workers in phase 1A of the vaccine rollout as part of the Sisonke Protocol. At the weekend, it was extended to include healthcare personnel and support staff who aren’t directly patient facing. Many believed this meant it was extended to include the staff of insurance companies and healthcare providers.

It resulted in a number of regular members of the community arriving and joining the lengthy queues for a jab. Those who were supposed to be vaccinated only in phase 2 arrived at the vaccination centre with high hopes. There were many over the age of 60 who were vaccinated before officials realised what was happening, and started turning people away.

The background to it all is that on Friday, 7 May, all unvaccinated healthcare workers were urged to get vaccinated this week as part of the Sisonke Protocol. The South African Medical Research Council called on them to register and receive the Johnson & Johnson inoculation as the trial was going into its final week this Friday.

“We wish to let health personnel know that we have doses and capacity to extend the Sisonke trial to health workers who aren’t directly patient facing,” the medical council said. “We urge all health workers and personnel to take up this offer before a resurgence of cases this winter to protect themselves and our health systems.”

However, following some broken-telephone misinformation, people believed anyone could be vaccinated and it was a case of first-come-first-served. Many were asked to provide a letter from their employer in the healthcare industry. While some letters were perfectly legitimate, many weren’t.

Many senior citizens, who are eligible to get the jab from Monday, 17 May, were lucky to jump the queue. However, while there were people with comorbidities trying their luck, there were also young healthy people in the queues.

“There are a lot of people here who actually shouldn’t be here,” said a woman in the queue on Tuesday. “Ninety percent of the people here are genuine healthcare workers, but there are some who have obtained letters stating that they work for a healthcare provider when in fact they don’t.”

As news of a third wave hits home, so too has rising levels of anxiety.

One elderly man who refused to be named said he and his wife had arrived at the hospital to “try their luck” after about a two-hour long wait, both had been vaccinated. Neither of them are healthcare providers, nor do they work for a healthcare provider. “I don’t like to say we jooked the system, but we got lucky,” he said.

At a time when most people can’t wait to tell the world that they have been vaccinated, posting pictures of themselves recently vaccinated in front of pretty medical backdrops, most of those in the hours-long queue refused to speak to the SA Jewish Report.

One medical officer who wished to remain anonymous said a message must have gone out stating that anyone could arrive for vaccination.

“This caused chaos. A lot of pensioners arrived because they had received messages with voucher numbers. We allowed some of them to get vaccinated, but we’ve had to turn others away because it will affect the trial swell.”

One man told the SA Jewish Report, “My understanding is that vaccination was now open to all healthcare workers and their staff, from the cleaners at a practice to office administrators. I’m in line to get it through my medical aid in about two weeks’ time, but I thought once it was available and open to us, I might as well come and get it. I think that’s what everyone’s logic is.”

Professor Barry Schoub, the head of the ministerial advisory committee on vaccines, told the SA Jewish Report, “As for jumping the queue, it’s a sad reflection of human behaviour. Sisonke is an implementation study rather than a true trial. The queue-jumpers shouldn’t affect the study provided they are honest in their documentation and can be followed up.”

Officials at the hospital got wind of people slipping through the cracks and by midday on Tuesday, they started turning away those who didn’t have legitimate letters proving they were healthcare personnel or support staff.

On Wednesday, many of those who didn’t fit the bill were turned away and told to come back when it was their turn, but others snuck through with fake letters or reasons.

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