Covid-19: Higher education unveils plan to vaccinate thousands of staff

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Higher education is set to begin an ambitious vaccine rollout.
Higher education is set to begin an ambitious vaccine rollout.
Gallo Images/OJ Koloti
  • The Higher Education sector is expected to roll out vaccinations for staff from Saturday.
  • Among those expected to get the jab are security and cleaning staffers above the age of 35. 
  • Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande says staff younger than 35 and students in residences will be accommodated in phase 2b of the vaccination drive. 

The Post Schooling education and training sector (PSET) is expected to commence with its vaccination drive on Saturday, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister Blade Nzimande said.

The minister made the announcement on Friday during a media briefing held in Pretoria.  

"The vaccination of PSET staff of 35 years of age and above – comprising approximately 70% of all staff in our sector – will formally commence tomorrow, Saturday, 24 July, and should be completed within a month," he said.

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Nzimande said the sector would roll out the Pfizer vaccines across higher education institutions in the major metros where there was no access to cold storage facilities.

"We will be rolling out J&J vaccines across our rural districts as this requires cold storage facilities at higher temperatures than Pfizer and other mRNA vaccines," he said.

He said the vaccination drive was expected to run for a month. 

The sector runs the vaccination drive as the country has already started taking registrations and vaccinating 35-year-old people and above.

He said the sector was working alongside the Department of Health. 

The minister clarified: 

We are not duplicating with what the department of health is doing (national vaccination programme)... Instead, we are using [department of health] guidelines. "The reason why we are opening to 35 years and above is because that's the guideline from the department of health. We can't do something that is outside of those guidelines.

Higher Health CEO Ramneek Ahluwalia added that the sector had taken a conscious decision along with health to vaccinate workers aged 35 and above.

He said vaccines were secured for all staffers and once they finished with those aged above 35, they would start with the younger ones and students in residences and private accommodation. 

"Our sites are dedicated full time on higher education. We are sharing them with the community, but...they will be fully dedicated higher education sites," Ahluwalia said. 

READ | Universities to move online amid Level 4 - Nzimande

He said staff would need to produce their IDs and their employment cards. 

Nzimande said the sector was aware that some workers would still be able to get their jabs elsewhere but that would not be an issue. 

He said the drive would focus on people who were still not vaccinated.

In preparing for the drive, Higher Health collected information from about 250 000 workers across the sector. These include staff from in public universities, Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET) and Community Education and Training colleges, private institutions skills learning sector, Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs) Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), and National Skills Fund (NSF).

Staff at False Bay, South West Gauteng, Tshwane North TVET Colleges and University of Johannesburg were expected to kick off the drive simultaneously on Saturday.  

Nzimande said he asked Higher Health to develop a comprehensive communication strategy involving all stakeholders within the the sector to mitigate vaccine hesitancy and misinformation.

ALSO READ | Universities must prioritise student success, staff and curriculum development - Nzimande

The minister said the sector would use the capacity of its public facilities to provide vaccination services to other eligible sections of the wider higher education community, working in close consultation with the national Department of Health. 

He has also visited several sites, including one at the Cape Peninsula University of Technology, University of Pretoria and Mthashane TVET College, he said.

Nzimande added that the infrastructure and logistics set up at the centres had easy access to the country's general immunisation plan and would reduce the load from the Department of Health vaccination sites.

Provisions have been made with sites dedicated to vaccinate 300 to 1 000 people per day, he said. 

Sites

Higher Health, with the help of the health department and service providers, was expected to open 12 additional sites across Johannesburg, Tshwane, Cape Town, Gqeberha and eThekwini starting from Monday.

Nzimande said the sites will be extended to private institutions, skills learning sector, Sector Education and Training Authorities (SETAs), Quality Council for Trades and Occupations (QCTO), National Skills Fund (NSF) with a range of skills development providers.Nzimande said Higher Health would next week also open an additional 40 to 50 sites with the department of health accross other districts.

"I therefore call on all staff from the age of 35 – fulltime, part-time, contracted staff (cleaning staff and security) and post-graduate students in teaching positions that are planned for this phase to come out in numbers to be vaccinated through the PSET and the community vaccination programme. 

"Staff younger than 35 and students who live in residences including in private accommodation are earmarked for vaccination in Phase 2b that will kickstart once the above 35s are completed.

"They will then be followed by our students starting with students in residences and private accommodation and eventually extending to all students as per the Department of Health determined age classification phased programme," Nzimande said.

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