Hail a jab: COVID-19 vaccines taken to the taxi ranks of Eswatini

Access to COVID-19 vaccines has been made easier in the Kingdom of Eswatini as residents can get their jab at bus stops and taxi ranks across the country.

Sibonisile-Ntimba_h2.jpg
Sibonisile Ntimba a street vendor receiving her vaccine. Credit: Bongiwe Dlamini

 

To boost vaccine coverage across the kingdom, Eswatini officials have teamed up with the transport sector to bring vaccines to bus stops and taxi ranks across the country.

The easy access to COVID-19 vaccines has led to increased uptake of vaccine among people who work in and around taxi ranks, like street vendors and transport operators.  

“I believe vaccines have saved our jobs and them being brought to the taxi rank is the cherry on top.” 

The municipal council of Manzini, the second biggest city in Eswatini, was the first to bring vaccines closer to its people as it stationed a vaccination site where vendors and transport operators are.

“Before stationing the site, the municipality took the initiative to find out from the vendors the reason they had not yet vaccinated and the main response was that it was difficult for them to leave their vending stalls unattended,” says Municipal Council of Manzini Public Relations Officer (PRO), Mathokoza Thwala.

Thwala adds that, as a result, the municipality decided to place the vaccination station closer to the vending sites.

One of the vendors who jumped at the opportunity to get their jab is street vendor Sibonisile Ntimba.

Street vendors queuing at a vaccination station. Credit: Bongiwe Dlamini
Street vendors queuing at a vaccination station.
Credit: Bongiwe Dlamini

“Working in a busy place like the bus rank means I am the first one in the city and the last one to leave and I interact with different kinds of people, thus exposing me to COVID-19. The availability of COVID-19 vaccines reduces my chances of getting very sick or, even worse, dying from the virus. I am pleased by the steps taken by the municipal council to bring the vaccines closer to us,” she says.

“Being a street vendor means being at your stall at all times, and by the time we knock off, all vaccination sites are normally closed for the day.”

Before vaccinating, the healthcare workers start by explaining the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and answer all the questions people might have about the vaccine. 

“I appreciate that the nurses have assured us that the vaccines are safe and are willing to answer all our questions, ensuring that we have all the information we need before taking the jab,” Ntimba says.

Another important stakeholder is the public transportation sector. Chairperson of the National Road Transportation Council, Sihlangu Nhlabatsi, says that the government set aside 20,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine for the sector and that everyone employed in the sector can be vaccinated at their taxi ranks as stations have been placed for all of them to vaccinate.

Sibusiso Makhanya, a taxi driver, says that the easy access to vaccines provides them with an opportunity to save the jobs that they almost lost in 2020 when COVID-19 hit the country. During lockdown the number of passengers per vehicle was reduced to 70% of their carrying capacity.

“I believe vaccines have saved our jobs and them being brought to the taxi rank is the cherry on top,” Makhanya says.  He adds, “Taking the jab is the noble thing to do. The local government made the extra effort and brought the vaccine to the busiest place in town to ensure that even people who are working in our sector are afforded the opportunity to be vaccinated.”

Meanwhile the Director of Public Health in the Ministry of Health, Dr Bongiwe Malinga, says that, on average, 1,200 people are vaccinated daily in the country. “Through COVAX we have enough vaccines to vaccinate the entire nation,” she says.

The country has received over 400,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines through the COVAX initiative since March 2021. Currently, Eswatini is rolling out the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines.

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