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Young doctor and school volunteers speed up vaccine drive

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Giving a vaccine may take a second, but the administration that needs to happen for every jab takes a lot longer. Local doctor Menachem Hockman, who is only 27, realised that the process could speed up if he took this extra work off the hands of healthcare workers.

Bringing in youthful Jewish volunteers to take on these tasks, he implemented a revolutionary model that has grabbed the attention of the Department of Health (DOH), and could make all the difference in speeding up local vaccination drives.

Known by his nickname as “Dr Menoosh”, Hockman told the SA Jewish Report how it all began.

“I’m working at Dobsonville Clinic in Soweto, and there is a vaccination drive there. I noticed that while vaccinating a patient is quick, there’s a lot of administration that surrounds vaccination that takes up to 10 to 15 minutes for each patient. Those jobs were falling on the vaccinators or nurses. Due to that, it became quite a slow-moving process.

“So, I approached the facility manager and discussed finding volunteers who could come in and take on the administrative role because it doesn’t require much training. She put me in touch with a few people, and the government gave us the go-ahead to start a trial and bring some students in.

“We started at Jabulani Mall in Soweto with students from King David Linksfield (KDL) and the South African Union of Jewish Students. They did a fantastic job helping to capture the data and make the process go smoothly.”

Hockman believes vaccine hesitancy can be lessened by “an efficiently-run vaccination site. If people think going to a site means taking off an entire day and spending four hours in a queue, they may be deterred from doing it. So there’s huge value in improving the sites. It will encourage more people to get vaccinated because they see it as a 20-minute process as opposed to spending the whole day.”

These initiatives are important because “COVID-19 is something that has affected the lives of every South African. It’s not something that’s ‘somebody else’s problem’. People would rather come out and help fight it than sit in their house. It was incredible to see that it’s something the youth are especially keen to get involved in.”

One of these volunteers was Tali Atie, who is 17 years old and in matric at KDL. As soon as she heard about the need for volunteers, she jumped at the opportunity. Roles included COVID-19 screening to ensure anyone who arrived wasn’t COVID-19-positive, or doing the registration, which entailed capturing personal details before the person had their jab. Then, after the vaccine was done, other volunteers captured data that would help to build government statistics.

“I’m a strong believer that you can’t complain until you actively try do something about it,” Atie says about getting involved. “I was really upset about how the vaccine rollout was taking longer than we were expecting. However, I knew that I couldn’t fairly criticise the system until I took an active role in trying to change it,” she told the SA Jewish Report.

“And so, when I was offered this opportunity I took it, not knowing how much I would actually enjoy it.” While she has always loved volunteering, “for the first time in my life, I felt the work I was doing truly made a difference to other people’s lives and the South African community as a whole. It was an opportunity that was truly unforgettable.”

Hockman didn’t stop at Soweto. He brought the initiative home after he received a call from the DOH asking if he would like to facilitate a vaccination drive in the Jewish community.

“I told them, ‘Of course!’ From there, it took a lot of co-ordination. First, I had to find a site. I called Rabbi Aharon Zulberg from The Base, and he was so excited. He couldn’t have been more helpful. He allowed us to use his shul and co-ordinated everything – the signage, layout, equipment, and so on.

“Once you’ve got your layout, the DOH needs to do an inspection to approve the site. Then there are requirements regarding fridges, which need to be maintained at specific temperatures. There are also special medical cooler boxes with ‘temperature loggers’.” He’s grateful to Hatzolah, which loaned all this equipment.

Then they had to recruit nurses for the day and send their names to the DOH to create login details. All this was approved. Finally, they had no shortage of volunteers to do the administration, “which just made the event run so smoothly. The nurses were just focused on vaccinating. It was a complete collaboration of a lot of parties,” Hockman says.

“A lot of people came [to the vaccine drive at The Base] – a lot more than we expected,” he says. “We thought most over 50s would have already been vaccinated, but we did more than 870 vaccines in one day. We’re hoping to implement this at more vaccination sites. We have already been in discussion with the DOH, and they’ve approved it in principle. So, we’re going ahead and planning co-ordination. We’re hoping to open up more vaccination sites in coming weeks and to bring volunteers to more sites.”

He’s grateful to every organisation and individual for their support, “and most importantly, to our volunteers who were so quick to give their time. I was worried we might not have enough volunteers, but it turned out I had to turn volunteers away because everyone wanted to be involved. We are still working on a sign-up system. We will send out details of how to sign up once it’s all in place. Our community can make a great difference to South Africa with these sorts of initiatives.”

Atie says that while she felt a bit anxious about exposing herself to so many people when she isn’t vaccinated yet, they took all COVID-19 precautions. In addition, “I loved meeting people that I had never interacted with before. We found we had similar values and goals. That’s why I was so devastated when I saw Jabulani Mall getting looted and destroyed [in civil unrest] a few days later. But it made me realise how much more we need to help wherever we can. I recommend this volunteer opportunity 100% to others. There’s so much negativity and criticism, this is a chance to make a difference not only to our own lives, but to others’ lives too.”

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