Medical students doing clinical studies are likely to be one of the first groups of people to be inoculated when the government rolls out the Covid-19 vaccination.
Speaking during a webinar on how to manage the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in higher education institutions, national vaccine coordinating committee co-chair Dr Lesley Bamford on Wednesday said discussions were still ongoing on when student doctors could be inoculated.
Bamford said: “During phase one, our priority group is healthcare workers. We know that there are healthcare services provided in our campuses and those healthcare workers will be eligible for vaccination during Phase 1b.
“There’s still some discussion about this, but health science students who are in their clinical years and are therefore working in our healthcare facilities are likely to be included during Phase 1.”
Government is expected to receive 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine soon.
The first people to receive the vaccine will be healthcare workers. And according to Bamford, once that is done, medical students might be next in line.
She said: “In Phase 2, essential workers include educators – both in our schools and higher education settings.
“In terms of people living in crowded settings, there is a proposal; but not yet finalised; to include students in institutions of higher learning. Many issues related to Phase 2 are still to be finalised.”
Higher Education Minister Dr Blade Nzimande said he had instructed Higher Health – a department entity that dealt with health issues on campuses – to create a strategy that’s aligned with the Health Department’s national vaccine rollout plan.
“The strategy will help to ensure access to vaccination for our students and staff, of which priority for inclusion in the Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout programme are our frontline campus healthcare staff and health sciences students, especially the nursing, medicine and other disciplines.
“Again, in sync with the health department’s national vaccine approach, the post-school education and training vaccination strategy will develop a phased road map towards vaccination of all frontline and essential staff, student and staff volunteers, student support structures, as well as staff and students living with co-morbidities across all our campuses.”
Nzimande said the sector would train thousands of student volunteers to educate the public and offer information during the vaccination drive.
“In tandem we will amplify dialogues to address vaccination hesitancy and tackle other myths aimed to mislead our people, like the untruth that Covid-19 is caused by new technologies such as 5G,” Nzimande said.
Professor Ramneek Ahluwalia, Higher Health chief executive, said they were waiting for the Health Department strategy on vaccination before finalising their own.
“In Phase 1b, we will be having our frontline staff including healthcare students vaccinated. In category 2, the essential staff which includes security and cleaning staff should be in the front row of the vaccine.
“We have to be mindful that morally we have a huge challenge in how to balance vaccine distribution so that the people who need it first get it,” Ahluwalia said.
The higher education sector’s academic year is expected to start in March and Universities South Africa’s CEO Professor Ahmed Bawa said the biggest challenge would be ensuring there were no Covid-19 outbreaks on campuses.
He said: “We have to make sure we don’t end up with large outbreaks on campuses. It is fundamentally important that we don’t have large outbreaks that will lead to the closure of universities that will force us to shut down campuses.
“We have to continue to be absolutely vigilant and support each other to keep the university sector functional.”