Covid-19 vaccination programme discriminates against the poor - research

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A research project by the University of Johannesburg has found that the Covid-19 vaccination programme discriminates against the poor. (SAgovnews via Twitter)
A research project by the University of Johannesburg has found that the Covid-19 vaccination programme discriminates against the poor. (SAgovnews via Twitter)
  • A research project by the University of Johannesburg has found that the Covid-19 vaccination programme discriminates against the poor. 
  • The research found that people in informal settlements do not have money to travel to get vaccinated or adequate access to register for the vaccination. 
  • The research project took place in Protea South. 

The way the Covid-19 vaccination programme for the elderly is administrated in South Africa discriminates against the impoverished.

This formed part of the findings by the University of Johannesburg's Social Change unit, which led a research project in Protea South, Johannesburg.

Discussing the findings during a webinar on Thursday, Professor Kate Alexander, the South African Research Chair in Social Change at the university, said the vaccination system in its current form disadvantages poor people and should be addressed immediately.

According to the research, the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), in principle, was a good idea as it should have reduced inequalities by vaccinating people in the order they registered. 

However, the inadequacies of the government's implementation undermined this. 

READ | SA is not reaching herd immunity. Our new goal is containment – here's how it works

People with cars and petrol money can drive around vaccination sites until they find a relatively short queue for 'walk-ins'. This is not possible for poor people, who, as seen in this case study, do not have the funds to reach their nearest site, let alone go from one to another.


Alexander explained that impoverished people would have to decide to spend the little money they had, meant for food, on transport to get to the vaccination sites. 

Researcher Bongani Xezwi said there needed to be an official plan for taking people to vaccination sites if they required a lift, as a R44 round trip to the clinic was too much for most people who lived in the area under study. 

"In addition, EVDS was introduced as a technocratic solution to a social problem. First, many people do not have the information they need to make an informed decision about vaccination."

"People with smartphones and computers read online posters in English. Those without such gadgets and linguistic competency need posters on walls and flyers in hands, preferably in their own language, and they need far more coverage on radio and TV."

"Secondly, even though it is free and relatively easy to register by phone, the steps are not adequately conveyed and, again, messaging has prioritised an online process. People without access to any kind of phone, and there are still many of them, must not be excluded from information and registration."

It was further argued that the delivery problems with EVDS were partly about efficiency. The programme had been chaotically administered, government communication had been chronically weak, and there were insufficient vaccination sites and staff.

READ | Government expecting an announcement from US FDA on J&J vaccine delay

"However, it is mainly about equity. Old people most in need of shielding against the virus, those living in congested informal settlements where poverty is deep and rife, have greater problems in obtaining vaccination. Impoverishment and its implications for the rollout is signalled in numerous ways, including prioritising hunger alleviation over health protection, complaints that R10 for Panados is a significant expense, volunteers requiring food, and lack of access to information and registration."

The case study also noticed widespread hesitancy in taking the vaccine, with people complaining about the lack of information from the government. 

One such person was Emily Mohapi, who was born in 1921. 

During a webinar on the research project, Mohapi said she did not want to be vaccinated, but she was later convinced after being given more information. 

Now being part of those who had been vaccinated, Mohapi was grateful and felt more alive than ever. She also encouraged other elderly people to get vaccinated.

The following recommendations were made: 

- Assist the CHWs [Community Health Workers] by recruiting local youths who can help with education and registration; provide them all with smartphones and data; and draw on the mobilising skills of experienced community activists.

- People must be taken to the vaccines, or vaccines must be taken to the people. Metros and local municipalities should second or recruit staff to co-ordinate transport for poorer people to reach vaccination sites. The transport could be taxis, volunteers' cars, private taxis or buses. In addition, there should be a move towards using mobile vaccination units.

- When people are vaccinated, they should be offered free Panados and free masks; and free masks should be available in clinics, schools and other public places.

- The government should provide emergency financial assistance in the form of improved pensions and restoration of the Social Relief of Distress grant.   

 

Meanwhile, the Community Organising Working Group of the C19 People's Coalition (COWG), who collaborated on the research project, strongly opposed the Department of Health's vaccination process. 

READ | SA's Covid-19 deaths may be three times higher than reported - researchers

"The registration system as it is currently used is a true reflection of the fact that the South African government prioritises profits over people's lives. It is clear that accessibility to EVDS by the working class and the poor was not a consideration when the system was created."

"There is a looming crisis with keeping our senior citizens safe even though, because of the vaccines, we now have the means to do so. They don't know how to use the technology, they don't have money to buy expensive data, and worst of all, their state pensions are not enough to allow them to make ends meet."

As of 2 June, the number of people over the age of 60 vaccinated with the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine stood at 637 801.

The total number of health workers vaccinated under the Sisonke Programme was 479 768. 

The country had so far recorded a total of 1 675 013 confirmed SARS-CoV2 infections, which caused Covid-19. 

The Covid-19 related death-toll as of 2 June stood at 56 711.

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