Sisonke Vaccine Programme offers Mediclinic Clinic Nurses a chance to fight COVID-19

Posted on 3 May 2021

When the first wave of COVID-19 swept South Africa, Phophi Nembahe admits that she and her fellow nurses at Mediclinic Louis Leipoldt were “caught off guard”. They knew about the virus; they knew it was spreading fast around the world – but Nembahe, a registered nurse working in the hospital’s adult ICU, says: “We had never seen anything like this. It threw us all in the deep end. We had to keep adjusting our practices, and the environment.”

The emotional and physical toll was tremendous. Nembahe is a pragmatist: working in a hospital means seeing more death than the average person. COVID-19 deaths felt different, somehow: “It was traumatic, emotionally and physically exhausting. We worked so hard. But as hard as you worked, (in the early days of COVID-19), it didn’t guarantee the patient’s survival.”

The second wave, she says, was “far worse” – partly because there seemed to be “no rules, anything goes” when it came to who COVID-19 affected. “It was scary that it didn’t matter if you had co-morbidities or not, if you were fit or not…”

So, when the government announced that healthcare workers were eligible to take part in the National Department of Health’s Sisonke Johnson & Johnson vaccine roll-out programme, you would think Nembahe would jump at the chance to get vaccinated. Like many of us, though, she wanted time to learn more about what was on offer and to understand how her body might react to the vaccine. As she watched her colleagues register for the programme, she became certain that a vaccine was her best shot at equipping her both to fight off the virus and to keep doing her important daily work.

“I decided to go for it. I wanted to protect myself: I’m a healthcare worker, and I’m hands on with patients. Without a vaccine, that’s like going to war without any weapons at all!”

The Sisonke Programme is described on its website as a “collaboration between the National Department of Health, South African Medical Research Council, Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, CAPRISA, Janssen and Johnson & Johnson”. It was introduced as a way for the government to offer healthcare workers the J&J vaccine using a research programme. Crucially, there was already sufficient data on the vaccine’s safety and effectiveness before it was offered through the Sisonke Programme.

On February 27 Nembahe joined many others at Tygerberg Hospital in the Western Cape for her vaccination.

“It was so full, lots of people were there and that really helped me to see I had made the right decision. Doctors, nurses, colleagues – seeing us all there, it gave me peace of mind.”

“It is so exciting to be in there, to see people’s relief when they finally have their vaccination card in their hand, when they know they have been vaccinated,” Dr Gerrit de Villiers, Mediclinic Southern Africa’s Chief Clinical Officer, said on the day.

The mood was electric: even those like Nembahe, who doesn’t enjoy injections (“I like giving them!” she laughs), were upbeat and optimistic. As De Villiers explained: “We firmly believe that this is our best shot at conquering this disease.” By ensuring that Mediclinic’s dedicated healthcare staff have been given the best protection available against COVID-19, the group is investing in its employees’ health and wellness – and, ultimately, making sure they’ve got what they need to keep providing world-class care as COVID-19 continues to place pressure on health systems around the world.

Nembahe knows she made the right decision: “I felt safer. I feel like I stand a better chance against Covid, and I can confidently do my work.”



Published in Healthy Life

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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