South African miners waiting for coronavirus vaccines

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South African miners waiting for coronavirus vaccines

- Outside Anglo American Platinum Ltd. s Tumela mine shaft, around 25 workers, many still in the overalls and hard hats they wore on their shift, sit patiently waiting for their coronavirus vaccines while vervet monkeys scamper over the roofs of nearby steel storage containers.

They then fly to a room where their registration is checked in government databases, offered counseling and checks with Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE's inoculation by filing a form into the room. Before returning, they use a free blanket, sanitizer and painkillers to be left in the event of side effects.

It's at sites such as these, one hour drive northwest of Johannesburg, where South African companies are playing a crucial role in helping government counter the ravages of the pandemic among remote communities. Harnessing all of the country's medical resources is seen as key in the race to immunize enough people to stop outbreaks that have, according to some estimates, almost 240,000 South Africans killed.

'The national role has been huge, said Nicholas Crisp, who oversees the private sector's vaccination program. 'Our interactions with mining companies in this vaccination program have been fantastic. The vaccination program is exceeding demand nationally, with inoculation capacity stuttering. The number of shots administered surpassed 272,674 on July 21 but less than 200,000 have been issued daily since Aug. 3, and last appeared at 252 days in total since then.

The government's plans to address the issue include making vaccinations available by the beginning of next week to those between 18 and 34 and adding a notification drive to address hesitancy. Including privately run sites, the country may be able to issue 420,000 shots per day by the end of August.

The mine vaccination centers are among the best equipped to help. Many South African mines, due to their remote locations and years of dealing with HIV and tuberculosis epidemics among their workforces, have their own hospitals.

Anglo Platinum's Amandelbult operation, which consists of the Trimela and Dishaba mine shafts about 20 kilometers apart, has spent more than 25 million rand on modernizing its medical facilities since the pandemic onset. The investment included buying 250,000 rand freezers to keep Pfizer vaccines at 80 degrees celsius below zero.

The operation has to date vaccinated over 7 of its local workers and intends extending the service to other communities when the government gives the go ahead.

'You get those mines vaccinating employees and then their families and then the whole community, said Stavros Nicolaou, head of Health Work Unit at Business for South Africa, an organization that is working with government on vaccines. 'If you have a mine with 500 people, but the community has 10,000, the 500 will effectively get the other 9,500 vaccinated.

The Minerals Council, which represents most mining companies in South Africa, told its members that their members have given at least one vaccine to 106,000 employees on Wednesday. About 10 million doses have been administered in each state.

On t-shirts at Tumela the Medical staff wore blue T-shirts that read 'Would you like to get vaccinated? Many of the persons being inoculated there said they were enthusiastic about getting their shot and were grateful to have it administered at their workplace.

I am vaccinated so we can be safe, said Max Shiviti, a miner in Tumela. Mine doctor Philip du Preez said he was a walking advertisement for vaccine effectiveness. In February Johnson Johnson got a dose of Covid's shot and caught Johnson Johnson in June, but fought it off.

It is in mining companies' interest to help them get workers vaccinated. At times, the two shafts of Amandelbult had as many as 300 active Covid cases - 19 cases. One of its ill workers recently had to be airlifted to a hospital in Bloemfontein, 550 kilometers away, because it was the only place with a vacant intensive care bed.

The immunization program at Amandelbult got off to a slow start as rumors spread on social media about side effects and deaths, but gained momentum as miners saw their colleagues getting immunized.

'There is a change, a positive one, said Moloko Boke, a counselor at the Dishaba vaccine site. She says she hasn't had to counsel someone before they get their shot in a week.