Covid Vaccines the African way
I’m not an early adopter by any means.
Whatever the new invention may be, I’m always happy for others to be the guinea pig: once it’s proven, I’m in.
So I didn’t bat an eyelid when Zimbabwe started it’s vaccine roll out in February. I couldn’t be bothered when 70 per cent of our town got vaccinated in March. I sat quite happily amidst the hysteria about Delta wave and let time pass…until I’d finally finished breastfeeding.
Then it started happening. We were told restaurants could reopen for the vaccinated. Churches could proceed with services if parishioners produced a double vax card. The list grew and I grew tired of resisting so I thought I’d better line up.
Here, we have the choice of Sinovac and Sinopharm, two Chinese vaccinations, approved by the WHO, which probably won’t be accepted when I attempt to return to NZ, but at least I tried. Both use the traditional throw-some-dead-bugs-in-your-body type vaccination but Sinopharm was here first and has the longest track record in Zim, so I decided to go with it.
“Tried and true,” I whispered to myself as I made the decision.
Having girded my loins at long last, I selected this week as jab time, and asked a friend for advice on her experience at the police station clinic.
Her message read, and I quote, “Queue was ok. Go early, take a stool, a book and some patience.
“Wear a sleeveless top under jersey or whatever. If they can’t get to your shoulder you have to go inside.
“It’s nice there cause you queue under these magnificent trees.”
I LOVE magnificent trees, so off to the police station it was.
Having awoken early thanks to children, I rushed through a shower without washing my greasy hair, threw on a t-shirt with a cardi over the top to keep out the morning chill, grabbed a fold up chair, cup of tea, and my kindle, and was seated outside the clinic at 7:30am.
I was the second person there. My shamwari (friend) on the left in the photo was a talkative fellow who agreed to be in a photo with me. We chatted at length about my kindle and how it worked, which meant I didn’t get much reading in. By 8:15am the clinic nurses had prepared for the rush of the day at our wee clinic:
The dirt was hosed down, two old desks set out, chairs with no back put in place, a rubbish bag hung for used needles, and a bucket of sanitizer was put out that I never saw a soul use.
At 8:30am on the dot, a queue spontaneously appeared, emerging as one solid line of humans where before only dirt and trees existed. I thought smugly how I could shove my way to the front the moment jabs started because I had been here first after all.
Then the head nurse called some thing out in Ndebele. I heard “second jab,” the queue quantum leaped into the car park by the desks, and I was left asking what she had said.
“We don’t have the first vaccine. She has gone to get it,” said the head nurse.
“You can wait over there. She will be back soon.”
At 9:00am I asked if the vaccines were being brought from Bulawayo, a town five hours away. In my experience of Africa, the timeframes fit well within the definition of “soon”. The head nurse laughed kindly and repeated her answer.
“Don’t worry, you will be first.”
At 9:30am ‘she’ returned in a car, from the hospital ten minutes away, where she had been picking up first jabs.
By now the smug 7:30am smile had been thoroughly wiped off my face, and I had spent a significant amount of time gazing up at the magnificent trees wondering how I would describe them in a book.
My shamwari, also getting his first vaccine, had noticed my interest in trees and was attempting small talk about indigenous species while I searched in vain for tenants of my patience. I had not brought enough.
Finally, the moment came, and head nurse laughingly called me over, at which point I had to confess my shamwari had actually been first in the carpark and thus ought to be first now.
I lined up behind him.
“I.D.” Said the nurse.
I felt the blood drain from my face. Claire never mentioned I.D. I don’t know why I didn’t think of it. The cardinal rules of the African queue are Chrystal clear:
1. Always take water, food, a seat and a book.
2. Always take way more paperwork than you think will be necessary. Gurus take every bit of paperwork they have, in triplicate.
Through hands growing sweaty from panic, I messaged my husband, called him, searched my phone, and finally found a picture of my passport.
“Next,” called head nurse.
I acted nonchalent, I had no proof of residency so my best bet was a convincing act of “oh it doesn’t really matter”.
“I.D.” she said.
I showed her the picture. She paused. The pause stretched out. The pause stretched my nerves out.
“Do you have proof of residence?”
“Ahh, no, but I’ve lived here three years.”
She paused again, then, very slowly, she put her pen to the paper and began to write out my details.
I breathed out, and silently admired her empathetic nature. “WHAT a good person,” I thought to myself.
“Can I have Sinopharm, please,” I said.
“Ah no, we only have Sinovac today.”
I stared at her, thinking of my two-and-a-half-hour queue, and my vanished patience, then slumped my shoulders.
“Sinovac sounds great.”