Low vaccination rates on weekends due to budget constraints, says national health department

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A health worker administers a jab at the FF Robeiro Clinic at Sammy Marks Square vaccination site on 25 May 2021 in Pretoria.
A health worker administers a jab at the FF Robeiro Clinic at Sammy Marks Square vaccination site on 25 May 2021 in Pretoria.
PHOTO: Alet Pretorius/Gallo Images
  • Provincial health departments do not have money to pay staff to vaccinate people over weekends, says the national health department.
  • On Sunday, only 1 179 people were vaccinated nationally. 
  • The Western Cape will only start weekend vaccinations in July. 

Budget constraints are stopping provincial health departments from vaccinating people over weekends - another stumbling block that might derail the drive targets.  

Currently, the national health department is vaccinating healthcare workers and people aged 60 and above. This week, teachers will also start receiving the vaccine.

Phase 2 of the vaccinations is targeting five million people. By Monday, 2 144 204 people were vaccinated since the drive began. 

During the week, provinces vaccinate thousands of people, but the numbers dip over weekends.

On Friday, 95 247 people were vaccinated across the country. On Sunday, only 1 179 were vaccinated. Last weekend, Mpumalanga only vaccinated one person, Gauteng 48 and the Western Cape 16.  

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The national health department said the low vaccination rates over weekends was because provincial departments did not have budgets to pay workers overtime. 

Department spokesperson Dr Lwazi Manzi said: 

Basically, the provinces indicated they don't have the budget to be able to pay the overtime over weekends.

Manzi added the department was now working on addressing the budget constraints, and announcements would be made soon. 

Young Nurses Indaba spokesperson Rich Sicina agreed that provincial governments could not afford to pay workers.

Vaccines are mostly administered by nursing staff.

Sicina said only professional nurses could administer vaccines, adding auxiliary and enrolled nurses could do so under the supervision of a professional nurse. 

"The department has been telling us they can't afford overtime, especially for professional nurses because they say they are expensive. There is no way we can vaccinate on weekends because we won't get paid overtime." 

He added nurses were struggling to balance caring for regular patients and also having to do vaccinations. 

"Our system has been failing. There are a lot of unemployed nurses. We are producing weak medical interventions because of a shortage of staff, and there is also no money for overtime.  

"You ask us how we are going to fare against the third wave. We have been failing under normal circumstances. We were complaining about a gross shortage of nurses even before the pandemic." 

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Gauteng health spokesperson Kwara Kekana said the Chris Hani Baragwanath vaccination site had extended its working hours and was now operational seven days a week.

She said vaccinating sites were increased from 103 to 129 sites as of 7 June 2021.

The Western Cape health department said it currently did not vaccinate on weekends. "This is vaccine dependent, and we have not received vaccine quantities to enable us to vaccinate over weekends." 

It added the province would only start doing so in July when the Cape Town International Convention Centre opened as a site.

Neil Shikwambane from the Limpopo health department said sites were not open on weekends. He did not give a reason for this when asked. 

North West health spokesperson Tebogo Lekgethwane said the department was not vaccinating over the weekends because "their staff was stretched". 

"The issue is the availability of staff. Our staff is stretched; those who are available will be attending to things that were not done during the week. We are just trying to balance the situation." 

Lekgethwane added: 

We are pleased, but not really content with the vaccination drive. With the elderly, we are supposed to vaccinate 325 000 overall, but we have just passed 109 000. We still have a long way to go.

He said the slow pace was because of the availability of vaccines and the number of sites.

The province has expanded its vaccination sites from 15 to 41. 

"The numbers will pick up in the next few weeks," Lekgethwane added. 

The Free State's Mondli Mvambi said their sites were open over weekends. 

"There's myriad reasons for why people are not vaccinating as much as they could be, especially on weekends and public holidays.

"First, older persons seem to be eager to vaccinate because of their understanding that the vaccine may just be what they need to save their lives, whilst the younger generations - children and grandchildren - may be sceptical because of misinformation and disinformation about the vaccine." 

He added the reliance on others for transport might also be a factor in low turn-ups over weekends. 

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"Our observation is that instead of people making time for vaccination, which takes less than 10 to 20 minutes, they opt to go shopping and do other things which are not contributing to their long and healthy life." 

Eastern Cape health spokesperson Sizwe Kupelo said the province had never vaccinated over the weekend. "Our planning for vaccination rollout has always been Monday to Friday." 

The health spokespersons for Mpumalanga and Northern Cape - Dumisani Malamule and Lebogang Mahaja, respectively - did not respond to questions about their weekend vaccination rates.

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