Roll Out the Chaos

There’s something strange going on with Covid-19 vaccine roll-out. Apart from its stop-start nature, how sites are chosen and the way people are being assigned to these sites seems odd.

I have heard rumours that officials in the Ministry of Health may be receiving kickbacks from some site owners – a percentage of the cost of each shot administered – in return for assigning the site. As noted, it is a rumour I’ve heard doing the rounds. Even if it is false (as it may be) it reflects the mistrust many have in government, a mistrust well-founded by seemingly endless revelations of corruption – including recent allegations about the (now on special leave) Minister of Health.

In a time of pandemic, including numerous rumours, conflicting claims, false facts and paranoia among some people about Covid and the vaccine, this is disturbing. Trust in government should be a priority. But it is not.

On the other hand, one might say cynically, many South Africans are already vaccinated – to reacting against corruption.

Even more puzzling, and more personally frustrating, is the way in which people have been assigned to vaccine sites. There is, in theory, a zoning system in place, through which people are ‘streamed’ to sites near to them.

But there seems be some glitches in the system.

In the last few weeks, I heard how an elderly couple living together in Hyde Park were assigned, one to Sandton (okay, that’s reasonable), the other to…Randfontein? Another family, all of them in the medical field, also in Hyde Park, were sent to Charlotte Maxeke Hospital (okay), to Chris Hani Baragwanath in Soweto and to…Pretoria!

That is weird!

And these were not the only cases I have heard.

What is happening? Is there something wrong with the programme itself? Or is it just a case of operator error?

Some might argue that people should just be grateful they are getting the shots. Many, most, of us are still waiting for the vaccine.

But let us look at this from a different perspective. Apart from the inconvenience of having to travel considerable distances (and most of the folk being vaccinated are elderly), the apparently arbitrary assignment to sites seems to send a few uneasy messages. First, that the process may be flawed. It does not inspire confidence among people who may already be uncertain about the vaccine. Second, that the administration of the roll out is haphazard, perhaps incompetent. If so, will proper records (immunity certificates) be kept – or will someone suddenly find they officially didn’t get the jab? Third, and perhaps most worryingly, the assignment to an inconvenient site may turn some people already ambivalent about getting the jab away from getting vaccinated – “Let’s just sit it out and hope for the best.” All in all, this is not a good start to vaccinating South Africa. It reflects a pattern we see all too often in South African public life – good intentions, poor delivery. Perhaps what the country needs is less political rhetoric (unless of course it could be harnessed by Eskom to generate wind power) and more attention to practicalities. 

Fr Anthony Egan SJ

Fr Anthony Egan SJ (born Cape Town 1966; entered the Jesuits 1990; ordained 2002) has taught, full-time or part-time, at St Augustine College of South Africa, St John Vianney Seminary, Fordham University (on sabbatical) and the University of the Witwatersrand. The author/co-author of a number of books, book chapters, academic and popular articles, he is a correspondent for America magazine, a contributor to Worldwide and writes for He is also a commentator on local and international radio and television. He is an Honorary Fellow of the Helen Suzman Foundation. Extramural interests include Science Fiction, Theatre, Art and creative writing, including poetry.
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