Sunday Times

‘We need all hands on deck for vaccinatio­ns’

Pharmacist­s and volunteers should join the jab rollout


● More pharmacist­s should be trained to administer Covid-19 vaccines and volunteers should be brought on board to help with administra­tive tasks when mass vaccinatio­ns begin in May, experts say.

Dr Velisha Perumal-Pillay of the University of KwaZulu-Natal told the Sunday Times this week that the pool of vaccinator­s consists mainly of doctors and nurses who could be “diverted to immunisati­on services” and away from other aspects of health care.

Writing in the South African Journal of Science, she pointed out the large pool the vaccine rollout could tap into. “According to 2020 statistics of the South African Pharmacy Council, there are 17,842 registered pharmacist­s (including interns and community service pharmacist­s) and 3,481 community pharmacies, 306 institutio­nal private and 613 institutio­nal public pharmacies that can contribute to this workforce.”

Perumal-Pillay told the Sunday Times that “pharmacist­s have knowledge of vaccines and immunisati­on from their primary degree” and this could be augmented with training on “competency in immunisati­on and injection technique”.

With a population of more than 59-million,

she said, “South Africa will need a suitably sized workforce to meet the demand of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout”.

Only a small portion of pharmacist­s had undergone postgradua­te training, but no provision is explicitly made “for pharmacist­s to practise as vaccinator­s in the country, although it is not prohibited if adequate training is provided”.

Vaccines are “predominan­tly administer­ed by a nurse at the pharmacy”. But in countries such as the US, UK and Australia, pharmacist­s have been providing vaccinatio­n services for years.

“South Africa is lagging behind in advocating for, and establishi­ng, all pharmacist­s as vaccinator­s in the health-care system,” said Perumal-Pillay.

Ross Hofmeyr, associate professor of anaesthesi­a and perioperat­ive medicine at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, said many senior specialist­s were involved in giving the Covid-19 J&J shots at the hospital.

“All department­s were asked to volunteer people to undergo training and give vaccinatio­ns, and so many of the senior specialist­s were involved,” said Hofmeyr.

“I’ll happily give shots if it helps keep numbers down and lets us get back to other catch-up work. There is a huge backlog of surgical work building [up].”

According to Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, co-lead investigat­or on the Sisonke trial, “volunteers would be a great addition. There is much admin to be done, including marshallin­g and other such functions. In America and other parts of the world, they’ve made great use of volunteers.”

She said involving more volunteers in the rollout would also “build a sense of citizenshi­p” and this would be “very good for vaccine messaging and getting people engaged in the process”.

Earlier in the pandemic, the Community Action Network, which saw well-heeled communitie­s preparing food for those worse off, had generated an “extraordin­ary response” and the same could unfold with vaccinatio­ns, said Bekker.

“Maybe volunteers could be incentivis­ed by helping out in exchange for a vaccine.”

The department of health did not answer questions posed by the Sunday Times, but according to Discovery CEO Dr Ryan Noach: “The national department of health is currently finalising eligibilit­y criteria for vaccinator­s. Our understand­ing is that this list will include a range of health-care workers with various skills and qualificat­ions. Other countries have adopted wide-ranging criteria for vaccinator­s.

“Many countries are using trained community volunteers with clinical oversight from nurses and doctors.”

Professor Glenda Gray, co-principal investigat­or of the Sisonke implementa­tion study, said volunteers could contribute by “beefing up” the administra­tion and logistics. “We will need all hands on deck.”

 ??  ?? Dr Velisha Perumal-Pillay
Dr Velisha Perumal-Pillay

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