As I said to Husband Number 2 on Tuesday night, it’s your turn.

He went into the kitchen to prepare supper while I reclined on the couch, recovering from my adventure, waiting for my chip to start communicating with the Bill Gates Foundation (or whatever is supposed to happen after you receive your Covid-19 vaccination) and scrolling through messages from envious friends.

(The envy of my friends had, of course, nothing to do with polyandry. While it’s only fair that a country that allows polygamy should also recognize polyandry, my husband Number 2 was acquired post-divorce from Number 1.)

How had I managed to get vaccinated on Day 2 of the 60+ roll-out was what my friends really wanted to know.

This then is the story of my ‘lived experience’ of my first Covid-19 jab.  Lived experience as we all know is currently believed by some to be worth more than any facts or science and cannot be gainsaid if you are a Person of Colour (POC). It so happens I recently discovered indications of a POC ancestor dating back to the paternal family’s early days in the frontier land around Thaba Nchu.

My vaccination adventure began with an SMS at 10pm on the night the 60+ roll-out started, just after the Eskom blackout, informing me I had a vaccination appointment at the Hillbrow Community Health Centre in 12 hours’ time. It involved three hours of waiting, a touch of racism, a wandering IT specialist, a dose of Pfizer.

So there I was, out in the sun on a hard chair in line for the jab in a less than salubrious old building on the grounds of the Hillbrow Community Health Centre.

I would much rather have had my jab at Discovery Headquarters where it all seems to be free bottles of water, soft chairs, pure luxury, but I am not a Discovery Medical Aid member and the medical aid I am on, although as pricey, hasn’t yet opened its vaccination sites.

Highly likely contingency

But I chose not to postpone the appointment for fear we would once more run out of vaccine – a highly likely contingency given past performance by the current regime.

The queue was not particularly diverse or long when I got to it or even when I left. Most of us were not very old, most of us were on medical aid and middle class, some of us were even from Sandton – which was a bit strange, as your designated site in an urban centre should be 10km or less from your home or work, according to Nicholas Crisp, the deputy director in charge of the South African National Health Insurance system, who is also involved in the implementation of the vaccine roll-out. (I’m sure we’ll be hearing much more from him as time goes on).

To me it would have made more sense to give all medical aid members an appointment at a private site near their home and reserve public health sites for all those who do not have medical aid. Central control has at least eased enough for this to be possible. But perhaps the optics on that would be too revealing of how little movement there has been towards an equal-opportunity society over the past decades.

I was probably among the first to get an appointment because I first registered on the EVDS in February and again immediately it opened up for 60+ registration. Clearly I was eager. I had also just completed my medical aid vaccination form. Crisp told Bhekisisa’s Mia Malan that the initial appointments were being done on a first come, first served basis and would prioritise over-60s rather than comorbidity, as over-60s included most of those with comorbidities.

‘Life is not fair – get over it,’ philanthropist Gates is reputed to have said sometime in a speech at a high school somewhere – rather peremptory advice for a philanthropist, although I have no quibble with it. Jordan Peterson is bleaker. ‘Life is suffering,’ he tells us.

Which is why we probably accept that queues are inevitable if we wish to distribute something as fairly as possible in a country that is a long way from well-managed public health databases, never mind sites.

Vicious and predictable

On Tuesday at Hillbrow there was initially a whiff of the good humour and camaraderie of the 1994 voting queues. We had chairs and were out in the fresh air and sunshine. But it dissipated somewhat after a small group of city (some with JMPD logos on their masks and leisure jackets) and local government officials turned up late in the morning, were clearly under 60 and were soon ushered in, along with a handful of those who’d been waiting patiently at the front of our line since 8am. When a man decided to voice our belief that it was probably not a good move for these staffers to jump the queue, the response was rapid, vicious and predictable. ‘We are humans too, you racist….’

The line of mere mortals shrank back to avoid confrontation and urged the lone fairness advocate back to safety.

If the skin colour of the parties to this exchange had been reversed this would have been a headlining story, and unleashed outrage on Twitter.

It’s not clear how much of this butting into the over-60 queue is happening at the 87 public health sites – 200 promised for the second week. But the Northern Cape local government has defended its decision to vaccinate its MPLs even if under 60 years. It said it was using them – as well as religious leaders and what it called ‘cultural leaders’ – to ‘set an example’.

To be scrupulously fair, the government has a point. Much more persuasion is needed to get the majority of even this vulnerable and generally acquiescent category of 5.5 million citizens vaccinated. 

After a two-hour wait we were let through the door in groups of 10, and eventually into what was the smallest, least well-ventilated space I have been in together with a dozen other people in well over a year. Then we waited.

The batch of vaccine had been used up. The pharmacist and a guard would have to go and fetch the next batch from an undisclosed refrigerated location.

Gone walkabout

When they returned with the precious batch it was discovered that the IT person, the only one with login authority for the computers to be used to record our actual vaccination vial, had gone walkabout and was uncontactable. 

The desperate pharmacist, anxious not to have his temperature-sensitive vials standing for too long, and a resourceful sister in charge, aware of a no longer very patient line of people behind my group, decided to make do with badly copied forms, betraying a shortage of toner, dating back to the Sisonke pilot. These we hastily filled in with the few pens we had to hand.

Finally I found myself in a cubicle, alone with the vaccinator. A selfie together, and jab one was done. I exited the building with a scrappy bit of paper showing I’d received a dose of Pfizer. (Clearly we are nowhere near a highly contentious issuing of laminated vaccine passes or passports.)

A day later I received a vaccination code via SMS. While I was told I would be given an appointment for the essential second dose – recommended for three to four weeks later – Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has already appealed for patience, saying: ‘We might want to delay the second dose by up to three months… if that happens, don’t feel aggrieved.’

Mark Barnes (an indefatigable optimist if ever there was one) got vaccinated at Hillbrow on Day 1. His tweet was Obamaesque: ‘Vaccinated! I got the SMS – get to Hillbrow CHC! System worked. Frontline medical staff wonderful – caring, positive and competent, Yes, SA, we can!!!’

On Day 3 Trevor Manuel had his jab at the same venue, was ‘elated’ and keen to encourage others, as he recently lost his mother and a friend to Covid.

A day later Teresa Oakley-Smith, diversity specialist and Dali Mpofu baby mama, had ‘a most wonderful experience with vaccination in Hillbrow clinic. Smooth professional and caring.’

My right as a citizen

I can honestly say I was delighted to get my jab. But am I as subserviently ‘grateful’ as so many Ramaphorites on Twitter appear to be?

No.

It is my right as a citizen of a democracy to be able to get this vaccination against a national threat if I want it. I am contributing to this vaccination push directly and indirectly. It is the Department of Health’s job to make it possible for us all to have it.

Was it a smooth and wonderful introduction to the management abilities of DOH and future National Health Insurance? Because I suspect that this is all a dress rehearsal for the government-planned centralised system they wish to fund with the money we paid to our apparently complicit – or should that be simply defenceless – medical aids.

No. 

If anything, it was an indicator that, despite the hard work and competence of many health workers and even good intentions of central planners, centralisation doesn’t work well because little snafus can trip it up; that we are very far from being able to deliver an NHI system to the same standard everywhere and to everyone’s satisfaction; and that choice is central to a functioning democracy. It also illustrated how even the lowest officials in a top-down chain can easily morph into an arrogant elite.

[Image: Triggermouse from Pixabay]

The views of the writer are not necessarily the views of the Daily Friend or the IRR

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Paddi Clay spent 40 years in journalism, as a reporter and consultant, manager, editor and trainer in radio, print and online. She was a correspondent for foreign networks during the 80s and 90s and, more recently, a judge on the Alan Paton Book Awards. She has an MA in Digital Journalism Leadership and received the Vodacom National Columnist award in 2007. Now retired she feels she has earned the right to indulge in her hobbies of politics, history, the arts, popular culture and good food. She values curiosity, humour, and freedom of speech, opinion and choice.