Swartkops, South Africa, Sep 26 (BUS): When Wongalwethu Mbanjwa tried to get a COVID-19 vaccine and found his local post closed, a friend told him there was another option: get one on the train.
So did Mbangwa.
Not any train, but the South African Vaccine Train – which has now made its way to the small town of Swartkops on the country’s southern coast. By decisively carrying doctors, nurses and vaccine doses, it has a mission to bring vaccines closer to people in small towns and poor parts of South Africa, which has the highest number of coronavirus infections on the continent at more than 2.8 million, the AP reports.
The train is parked at Swartkops Railway Station, the first stop on a three-month journey through the impoverished Eastern Cape province. It will stay for two weeks at a time at seven stations in the county to vaccinate as many people as possible.
The state-owned railway company Transnet launched the program to help roll out the government. The initiative aims to address two of the government’s biggest challenges: moving doses out of major cities to areas where health care facilities are limited and trying to persuade reluctant people in those areas to get vaccines.
A train called Transvaco can hold up to 108,000 doses of vaccine in extremely cold refrigerators. It has nine trainers, including accommodation instructors, a kitchen and dining area for staff, a vaccination area, and counseling rooms.
It’s a new ride on another train that has been taking doctors and medicines across South Africa since the mid-1990s.
Dr Babalu Mokwana, director of the train programme, said medical personnel have vaccinated just under 1,000 people so far while stopping at Swartcops. They hit the train, but they also sent a vaccination team to nearby factories and companies to give vaccines to people at work.
Untsavokazi Singabhi was one of the people who received a vaccine from the off-site vaccination team at her factory. She arrived for her second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine with a smile on her face.
“I’m happy, and I feel at peace,” she said. “I know I am safe, and so are my children and others around me. So I am really at peace with (the fact) that I am done.”
“I have been waiting for the moment when I can also say that I am among those vaccinated in South Africa,” Singaphi said.
Only 14% of South Africa’s 60 million people have been fully vaccinated, and the train is part of the push to get that number up as quickly as possible.
However, it does not always work.
Andiswa Maseko was the first person on the train to get a vaccine early Thursday morning. The head of vaccination, Bongani Nxumalo, explained her options. She could either get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine or use two doses of Pfizer-BioNTech. After Maseko showed signs of hesitation, a nurse entered the vaccination room and also tried to reassure her.
But Maseko, asking to be given a moment to think about whether she wanted a vaccine, got off the train and never came back.
Nxumalo said that Swartskop and the Eastern Cape Province were different from other places they worked. People are more hesitant.
“Most people here … have misconceptions about the vaccine,” he said. A lot of people will say ‘You’re here to kill us.’ “
“So, we keep telling them that the vaccine is real, that COVID is there, and a lot of people have lost their lives. We tell them we’ve been vaccinated too,” Nxumalo said.