To: Editors & Health Journalists

Issued by: Department of Health

Date: Sunday, 21 February 2021




South Africa is rapidly moving to protect its highly valued healthcare workers through the Sisonke Early Access Programme. The WHO reports that healthcare workers are an especially vulnerable group. A threat to their safety and wellbeing has a further impact on the health systems capacity to deal with people with COVID-19 during the pandemic.  The Sisonke Early Access Programme was launched on the 17th February. By the end of Saturday 21st February, more than 10,000 healthcare workers have already been successfully vaccinated.  The JnJ vaccine, used in the Sisonke programme, provides 57% protection against moderate-severe disease, 85% protection against severe disease and 100% protection against death, based on evidence from the clinical trials that included South African participants.


Following productive discussions with stakeholders from the private sector, the National Department of Health and the Sisonke Programme have allocated one third of all vaccine doses available for private healthcare workers. This means that one third of the first 80 000 vaccines will be allocated to the private sector over the next 14 days. All health care workers irrespective of where they work need to be vaccinated. This is critical and is aligned with the national prioritization framework for Phase 1 of the national vaccine roll out programme.


The collaboration with the private sector culminated in the first round of private sector healthcare worker vaccination being delivered on 20th February 2021. Despite limited planning time and a change in implementation from the CoviShield to the JnJ vaccine, the programme has already vaccinated more than 3,000 healthcare workers from the private sector. This was only made possible through close cooperation between department of health officials, site staff, private sector leadership, and the Sisonke program staff. The response from private healthcare professionals has been heartening and exceeded expectations across several sites. The confidence by healthcare workers in the vaccine and the protection it offers is evident in the queues and higher than planned demand from doctors and nurses across the country.


We know that the surge demand from healthcare workers is mirrored in many other countries including the UK and India and is not necessarily unique to South Africa. We appreciate the patience of healthcare workers as we work tirelessly to roll out this large-scale program in record time. There are a number of process related issues the departments of health, private sector partners and the Sisonke Programme team are working towards resolving in real time to alleviate the wait times. We are confident that our partnership across public and private sectors will help to overcome these short-term process challenges and result in us being able to protect many healthcare workers in a shorter period of time.


We are fully committed to protect the vulnerable healthcare workers who have sacrificed so much

over the past year in putting themselves on the front line. They have dealt with so much loss, pain and tragedy and we see their desire to be vaccinated as an expression of their hope, confidence and optimism. Healthcare workers across the country are today breathing a sigh of relief and rebuilding much needed morale on the front line. We are deeply appreciative to many leaders across the health system who have so willingly volunteered their time and expertise to help this national effort and in the words of one clinician expressing this as their ‘Thuma Mina’ moment for their country.


We want to urge all healthcare workers to use the government’s EVDS system to register Liaise with your relevant GP group, specialist private groups, or hospital leadership to ensure you have appropriately completed your electronic registration and consent process resulting in an electronic token prior to attending one of vaccination sites. Please bring with you your ID, e-voucher and mobile phone. This will allow for better planning and management of queues.


Coronavirus Hotline Number: 0800 029 999 (available 24/7)

Send HI to 0600 123 456 on WhatsApp.

Download the COVIDAlertSA App



Mr. Popo Maja

National Department of Health
Cell: 072 585 3219/082 373 1169