By ARDEN MASEKO and ROBYN JOHNSON
Monday. The first day over-18s are allowed to vaccinate on Rhodes University campus – and the response is overwhelming as Rhodents make the trek up to the Gavin Relly Postgrad Village site.
The waiting room is vibrating with anticipatory nerves and excitement, but it is quiet. Every two minutes, a nurse calls out “Next!” and the line shifts.
Each person sits in their own world but is seemingly content to be here. With every next person vaccinated, the energy builds.
Tiffany Pillay, a lecturer in the Botany Department, sits near the front of the line anticipating her second jab. “I am the youngest academic in my department. All my friends and colleagues have been vaccinated, and now I’ll finally be able to participate fully in the department.”
For Tiffany, this marks a key transition in her Covid timeline. Being vaccinated is crucial for those who require face-to-face classes, such as the Pharmacy and Science students and some more hands-on Humanities degrees.
Siphokazi Marta, a Pharmacy student, shares Tiffany’s sentiments. She gets her second dose today and will finally get to engage with her vaccinated classmates.
She pleads with people to consider this a community project, not an individual endeavour. “You might be hesitant, but just think about the other people as well.”
The jab-rate tailed off disappointingly in mid-August but skyrocketed after vaccinations were opened to the youth. Contrast: On Wednesday 11 August, 183 000 were administered in South Africa. By Wednesday 25 August, this had jumped to 265 000.
In Makhanda 28 165 jabs had been administered by 20 August. And the hope is that 18-34-year-olds will have given this a significant boost by the time the stats come again on 30 August.
Julia Arbuckle, a Fine Art Masters student, is about to join the cohort. She is glad to see the youth taking the initiative this way. “For a while, the majority of over 35s had stopped getting vaccinated. So when the over-18s were allowed to go, we rushed and overflowed sites more than you could imagine.”
This overflow applied to registrations as well. In response, Rhodes University’s corona response team increased capacity to accommodate more daily vaccinations from Monday, 23 August. Due to this influx, the site is only accepting bookings for vaccinations.
One staffer mentioned the immediate increase in bookings and vaccinations over the weekend. “We averaged 36 people a day before over 18s were allowed to register, and now we administer about 100 vaccinations a day.” Vaccination bookings are expected to increase further as more and more students return to Makhanda.
As the energy at the site shifts into chatter, we hear more of what they hope this world will look like post-vaccine.
While Julia is concerned about the next few months, she remains hopeful. “I hope people are clever and the government keeps important regulations such as masks… just because the vaccine is here doesn’t mean Covid has ended.”
Nadine Brits, another student, is more optimistic: “I’m excited for younger people to get vaccinated because it’s the most important parts of our lives being taken away.”
Bringing both concern and optimism to the table, Tiffany adds: “We have to be cautious and learn from other countries that eased restrictions too quickly so that our December is ayoba!”
*Vaccine bookings can be made at firstname.lastname@example.org. Provide your Name, Surname, ID number, staff/student number, and contact number, and you will be an appointment will be set for you.
About the journalists
I am Robyn Johnson, a journalist, activist, and third-year student in the School of Journalism at the University currently known as Rhodes.
Other than being a writer, lover, and frequent procrastinator, I am Arden Maseko (they/she), a student at Rhodes University majoring in English and Journalism and Media Studies. My writing reflects my life, whether in poetry, short story form or in journalistic work such as this. I like to take walks, wear platform shoes, and laugh with loved ones. I’ve been published in a number of literary publications, such as Hashtag Queer Volume 3, and I am a regular contributor to Gay Pages. In summary: I’m a bad girl, no muzzle!