This blog post is a personal account of getting a COVID-19 vaccination at Cape Town's Groote Schuur hospital.
It's been just over a year since South Africa went into hard lockdown, and we've weathered a year that no-one in their wildest dreams could have imagined; we've lost loved ones and colleagues, seen friends lose their jobs, lost our cool as we try to navigate Google classroom with our kids, and sanitised anything that couldn't get away fast enough... It's safe to say that 2020 was a year like no other. But what of 2021?
Despite all hopes to the contrary, we didn't wake up on the 1st January to find that 2020 was a rude joke and that everything was back to normal. Instead, we woke up to a revised level 3 lockdown and the dreaded "second wave". But we also woke up to the news that the Government had started the process of acquiring enough vaccines to start vaccinating heath care workers.
COVID-19 vaccination conspiracy theories
But with the news of an imminent vaccine roll-out also came the conspiracy theories. From claims in 2020 that Covid-19 was just a “hoax” to flat out refusals to believe it exists at all, there are now those that believe the vaccine is a ploy to secretly microchip us, and that the 5G towers are in on it by “mobilising the flu that comes in the form of the coronavirus”.
Ridiculous? Yes, but experts say the impulse towards conspiracies is “stronger when events are especially large in scale or significant and leave people dissatisfied with mundane, small-scale explanations”. And a study by Harvard’s Kennedy School, titled “Why do people believe Covid-19 conspiracy theories?”, says conspiracy theories are more likely to abound when “leaders and media personalities” promote this sort of misinformation.
I'm not a leader nor a media personality, so perhaps my account won't have as much of an impact, but I thought some of our readers might like to read about my experience of getting a COVID-19 vaccine at Cape Town's Groote Schuur Hospital.
How did I qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine?
Because the first question everyone has asked me has been "how did YOU get one?" (and not, 'is there a microchip in your arm now?' ) let me give you some background. When I'm not blogging for Initial, Rentokil, and Ambius I volunteer as a doula (birth companion) with the wonderful charity organisation, The Zoe Project (check them out - they do amazing work!)
Why do birth companions qualify for a COVID-19 vaccine?
Those of you who've had a baby or been at the birth of a baby will know that the work of gynaecologists, midwives, nurses, doulas and birth partners is up-close and personal, and frequently messy; a space in which keeping social distance is difficult and in which labouring mums are huffing and puffing, shouting and crying (so generating lots of airborne droplets).
Labouring women are screened for COVID-19, and we wear surgical masks and scrubs, have Hepatitis B vaccinations and observe rigorous hand hygiene protocols, but the risk of getting sick is still present. Which is why Zoe Project volunteers were offered the vaccination along with the nurses and doctors from Mowbray Maternity Hospital.
Here are some of my colleagues in their pink Zoe Project scrubs, at Groote Schuur.
The vaccination process:
Choosing to get vaccinated was entirely optional, and there was absolutely no pressure to do so. Those of us that wanted to register for the vaccination were sent a link to the Sisonke implementation registration site, where we entered our details, including name, ID number, role and the location in which we worked.
Once I had registered online, I received an SMS notifying me that I had registered successfully and providing me with a voucher number. It confirmed that I would be vaccinated at the Groote Schuur Hospital, with date and time to be confirmed. I would need to bring my voucher number and proof of ID to the vaccination centre.
On the day of the vaccination:
My slot was confirmed as 9am on a sunny and windless Cape Town Wednesday, and standing in the Groote Schuur level 4 car park I felt a real sense that I was part of history in the making. The whole process - end to end - took just under 2 hours, and by 11 am I was back in the car, grinning, with a small plaster on my arm and happily clutching my vaccination card. That's me on the right, and some of my fellow doulas and birth companions.
The Daily Maverick wrote a great piece recently in which they describe the process of storing and making up the vaccines on site, which echoes my experiences at Groote Schuur on the day. Vaccines are delivered in boxes of 20, as they get made up, in order to preserve the cold chain. It's one of the reasons there was a bit of a backlog, as we needed to wait until each batch of vaccine arrived.
The nurse doing mine explained that the vaccine is only viable for 2 hours after coming out of the fridge. Each syringe they receive has a sticker with a code on it, and those details were entered against my name on the Sisonke database, matching the code to me, my identity number and the voucher I received. I was really impressed with the thoroughness of the process.
I was so busy chatting to the nurses and looking around to check that everything was being done correctly that I completely missed the moment that the needle went in - hence no picture. Because we take the proper disposal of medical waste so seriously at Initial, I did make a point of checking that the syringe and needle were disposed of correctly into a rigid, yellow sharps container - which they were, of course. (Apparently you can take the hygiene freak out of the office but she's still thinking about hygiene protocols even when off duty!)
After the vaccination process:
After the vaccination was done, we were asked to wait in the (socially distanced) waiting area for 15 minutes, in case of any adverse side effects. There were large posters up on the walls advising that some side effects are normal, but that they should last no longer than 48 hours. I snapped a (rather bad) pic on my phone as a reminder, and then - after my allocated 15 minutes - I was free to go.
I also promptly received another SMS confirming both that I had been vaccinated, and my vaccination number, which correlated to the details on the vaccination card I had received.
The after effects of the COVID-19 vaccine:
My colleagues and I kept in touch during the day - comparing the after-effects we were experiencing. A couple of ladies complained that site of the needle-prick was sore, red and swollen, some colleagues developed a headache which lasted for a day or two, and other colleagues complained of flu-like symptoms.
My side effects started at 5pm and ran for almost exactly 24 hours. At 5pm I started feeling like I was coming down with the flu; my body was sore and I started to feel feverish. By 7pm I was in bed, and by 9pm I was running a significant fever, with chills and a headache. I spent a very feverish night (my husband says he has never felt skin that fiery!) and in the morning felt like I had been run over by a bus, although the fever had broken.
I applied for a sick day, took 2 Corenza C's and climbed back into bed, sleeping from 9am - 1pm. My afternoon was still spent in bed, reading, but by 5pm I felt almost back to normal, so got up and made biscuits with my daughter and cooked my family dinner. I had a good night's sleep, and that was that. By Friday morning I felt 100% back to normal.
In the meantime, I had received a follow up SMS advising me that flu-like symptoms were normal, but that I should report any symptoms that persisted for more than 48 hours to the Sisonke study.
So am I COVID-19 proof now?
According to the CDC, you’re not considered fully vaccinated until it’s been two weeks since you received a single-dose vaccine like Johnson & Johnson’s, and even then they advise that you should keep taking hygiene precautions in public places like wearing a mask, socially distancing, avoiding crowds and poorly ventilated spaces, and continuing to practice rigorous hand hygiene.
Why two weeks?
When you get the vaccine, it enters your body and helps your immune system learn how to recognize and fight the virus. You’re not getting the live virus when you’re vaccinated, but rather teaching your body to protect you from future infection. It takes about two weeks for your body to build up immunity against the COVID-19 virus.
So why do I have to keep taking precautions?
This is because whilst vaccines have shown to be very effective in 95% of people, there is no way to tell who the other 5% will be. Getting vaccinated does mean that you’re much less likely to get sick or develop symptoms, but the experts still don't know whether prevents you from being able to asymptomatically carry and shed the virus. Hence the need to still take sensible hygiene precautions in order to keep everyone safe.
Initial is here to help you keep safe, whether you've been vaccinated or not. We provide a wide range of hygiene services for businesses across the country, find out more about our COVID-19 services.