Written by Quintin Coetzee. Visit Quintin’s LinkedIn page and personal website.

I’ve been waiting so long to say this. I’m finally vaccinated! Only with one dose, but still… this is huge progress. I figured I’d share my very positive experience with our iSMA readers below.

The Wait

For those of you who aren’t already aware, South Africa has not had the easiest of starts to its vaccination campaign. For one, our government took very long to sign deals with vaccine manufacturers. This was in no doubt at least in part impacted by the extremely low availability of vaccines for export to Africa because of a handful of first-world nations directly pre-ordering stock before the vaccines even existed. When you consider a foreign government’s responsibility to look after its own citizens first, these actions make sense. But they don’t make things easier for us down South. And then we had the issue of manufacturing countries blocking exports. Finally, Johnson & Johnson, which SA relied on for rural vaccinations, had the Baltimore factory tainting issue that set our campaign back even more.

The result of the above was that we started late and started slowly. I’m in my 20s, and for ages, it felt like I might not even get a vaccine in 2021. In fact, the best case scenario (and our best case scenarios had already been shifted) was November 2021 for registrations for my age group. Fortunately, eventually, things ramped up. We used Johnson vaccines not only for those residing in rural areas, but also for specific worker categories, including healthcare workers, teachers, police, military, and correctional services staff. Alongside that, we’ve used Pfizer vaccines in metropolitan areas (which was what I got, as I live in Cape Town – a large city for SA standards).

A good friend of mine let me know that registrations were open for my age group, and within seconds (as I had created an online account beforehand), I had my booking confirmed.

Booking

There are a number of avenues to obtain a vaccine in SA at present. These have evolved over the roll-out. All South Africans have to register via the government’s EVDS system online. EVDS sends registrants SMSs with booking confirmations, however we are also able to find our own appointments sooner. One method is by calling around and finding a clinic, drug store, or other site that can offer us a slot. We can do this by checking the list of vaccination sites in each province on a government website. Alternatively, we can register online on the websites of our two largest drug store chains – Clicks and Dis-Chem.

Or, we can do what I did, which is to register via the Discovery Navigator. Discovery is South Africa’s largest private medical insurer, and has created a fantastic system for COVID-19 vaccine registrations. I’m not sure if they’ve done this through a contract with the government or out of their own good will, but it really is a well-designed process.

Arrival

As I managed to get a slot at a vaccination center close to home, I didn’t have to travel far. There was more than adequate signage outside the building for those arriving by car or on foot. I arrived before my 8am appointment time and a friendly security guard instructed me where to park. He led some of the arrivals to the building’s entrance and my in-person vaccination journey began.

Processing

I waited in a line that seemed long, but moved really quickly. Those waiting seemed in high spirits and the general sense was that those around me were excited to be there. I stood behind someone who arrived for her second dose, who shared with me that she, too, thought that the site was exceptionally well-run.

Discovery vaccination assistants were spread around the site holding “traffic signs”, directing everyone between the processing steps. Everyone was extremely friendly and knowledgeable and the environment was very modern and clean. I was impressed from the start.

After someone had confirmed that I was indeed meant to be there this morning, I had a temperature check, and then moved on to sign in with my SA ID at the first station. Following this, I was seated in a waiting area for what couldn’t have been more than 5 minutes, after which I was taken in a group of 6 people to the next station.

At the second station, an assistant again asked me for some personal details, including my ID, and filled out part of my National Government proof of vaccination card. I then moved on to a second seating area, and had barely sat down when I was directed to a nursing station. I was ready to receive my vaccine!

Vaccination

At the nursing station, Discovery workers entered my details on the government’s EVDS system (as is required at all vaccination sites), and then proceeded to administer my vaccine. I was also informed to wait the mandatory 6 weeks before coming back for my second dose, and was told that even if I didn’t receive a confirmation SMS for my second dose, I should return to the same site after 6 weeks and would be guaranteed to receive my second dose just as easily as the first.

Before I even left the nurses station, I had received an SMS confirming I’d been vaccinated and providing me with a code to use for my second dose.

Post-Vaccination

As a final step, I was told to take a seat in the observation area, and that I could leave if I felt fine at the 15 minute mark. I waited 20 minutes, just in case, and was on my way. Thus far, I’ve experienced just some mild arm pain around the injection site. Alongside all of the excitement and relief that comes with having been vaccinated with my first dose, of course.

Thoughts

Overall, my experience has been an extremely smooth and enjoyable one. Everything from registering, to processing, to being vaccinated via the Discovery system was easy. What the company has created is efficient and ties nicely into the SA government’s vaccination roll-out. I look forward to receiving my second dose in 6 weeks or (hopefully, perhaps if we receive more vaccines) even less time.

I also realize that, despite the fact that I’ve had to wait a lot longer than some of my first-world (Northern Hemisphere) peers, there are still so many in Africa, Southeast Asia, and elsewhere who have not yet been able to gain access to vaccines for various reasons, as well as those in my own country who are not finding it as easy to register online and travel to a vaccination site. Within South Africa, I am definitely privileged, and I hope that my government puts even more effort into ensuring equitable and timeous access to vaccines for all who live here.

As I was saying before today, I highly recommend that everyone who is able to goes to get their COVID-19 vaccine. Science has shown us how effective vaccines are at not only lowering the risk of contracting COVID-19, but also drastically lowering the chance of ending up in hospital with serious symptoms if you are infected. Unless enough of us get vaccinated, new (potentially stronger) variants of COVID will continue to develop, which will prolong the pandemic, prolong these necessary public health measures, and ultimately cost us all. We need to stand together, get fully vaccinated, and move forward wiser and healthier than before.

For information about vaccines visit the WHO, European Medicines Agency, and Mayo Clinic websites.

Below is a bonus photo for our readers. I was greeted with a gorgeously sunny mountain as I left the vaccination center this morning. Today was a good day. Thanks for checking in everyone. Stay safe and keep well!