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Government prepares for businesses to start offering COVID-19 vaccines to workers

Government has called on companies to come on board as government gears to open for businesses to inoculate the workers.

According to the department’s Director-General, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, there about 15 million workers both in the formal and informal sectors, which will fall under phase two of the country’s massive vaccination rollout.

The number excludes the healthcare workers who most of whom have received their Johnson & Johnson (J&J) shot under the Sisonke Study.

“Of course, we can’t vaccinate everyone at the same time. We will try to see who [we] will put first based on their vulnerability,” Buthelezi said on Wednesday.

Speaking during the Black Business Summit, the Director-General said those who work in sectors such as education, public service and administration, agriculture, forestry and fishing, electricity and transportation, are more susceptible to contracting the virus.

“We’re not saying there are more important than others but rather more on the vulnerability on transmission.”

Working with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac), Buthelezi said government is ready to pilot the sites in businesses and will start with those who are aged 40 and above.

In addition, he said one site in the mining sector at Impats in Rustenburg is operational and has already vaccinated less than 600 workers.

Buthelezi said his department is preparing another site next week in the manufacturing sector, one at a State-owned enterprise and another in the informal sector at SA Taxi in Midrand.

However, Buthelezi said the supply of vaccines was still an issue.

Meanwhile, Buthelezi said not even close to 50% of the 5.5 million people who are over 60 have registered and said they were working around the clock to change this.

In addition, he said the public vaccination sites have the capacity to inoculate 122 000 people a day, while the private sector only has less than 30 000.

“So, combined as a country we’re currently sitting at 70 000, but we’re ramping up and should be able to do 150 000 vaccinations per day.”

However, he said the country can even go up to 180 000 if the businesses fully start distributing the vaccines.

Herd immunity

Health Deputy Minister, Dr Joe Phaahla, reiterated government’s commitment to reach herd immunity, as the country’s vaccination rollout plan gains momentum.

However, according to Phaahla, the department is not only determined to vaccinate 67% of the population to achieve this immunity.

“But we’re actually committed to making sure that ultimately all citizens of South Africa can be vaccinated. That is really our goal.”

Although the inoculation programme did experience a few hiccups because of the global shortage of living-saving jab, Phaahla said the rollout is showing signs of gaining speed.

He said the country passed a remarkable milestone in reaching over a million vaccinated people.

“Pfizer has been delivering vaccines as scheduled and we’re most grateful that they’ve kept to the agreement in terms of the delivery schedules.”

Johnson & Johnson vaccines

On another hand, he said J&J has suffered some setbacks in the United States, after contamination problems at a COVID-19 vaccine plant in Baltimore, which has had a spillover effect locally.

“We’re eagerly waiting for this to be sorted out so that we can start to receive the two million doses which are ready for dispatch from Aspen Plant in Gqeberha. They’ve been waiting for the go-ahead from their mother company in the US,” he said, adding that the J&J is adamant that the matter will be resolved soon.

COVID-19 registration

Phaahla has called on business to galvanise people to register to be vaccinated especially in the rural and township areas.

According to the Deputy Minister, half of those who are aged 60 and above have signed up.

“However, we’ve noticed that the pace of registration has dropped a bit and we need to do more to pick this up.”

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