Cleaners want to be vaccinated alongside frontline workers

Lungani Zungu

They clean hospital theatres, isolation wards and Covid-19 wards but cleaning staff are not classified as frontline staff in the government’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out programme. 

Thabani Cele, who is a cleaner at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital in Umlazi, has lambasted the government for not vaccinating them with the frontline healthcare workers.

He said their lives were also at risk as cleaners.

“By not vaccinating us with the nurses and doctors, the government is showing us that our lives don’t matter. This is like throwing us in a river full of crocodiles.”

The second batch of 80,000 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday from Belgium.

But while many celebrated, Cele said he had nothing to be happy about.

“I can’t celebrate that I have to wake up every day and go to work where I can get infected and possibly die from Covid-19. This is not correct. We must also be vaccinated,” said Cele.

He added: “We clean the hospital full of people with coronavirus, but we are not vaccinated. This is the government telling us that we don’t matter in the healthcare chain.”

More than 63,000 healthcare workers from government and private hospitals have been vaccinated through the Sisonke Programme, which has set up 18 vaccination sites.

Another cleaner, who did not want to be named, said he would have resigned if he didn’t have a family to feed.

“I spent most of my time there, I see people dying from this pandemic every day. We clean the wards that these people are in.”

The cleaner pleaded with the government to also prioritise them.

He was at work when KZN Premier Sihle Zikalala went to Prince Mshiyeni hospital during the first vaccinations of the healthcare workers at the hospital two weeks ago.

“My heart sank when no one talked about also vaccinating the cleaners and the security guards who also face a high risk of getting infected.”

Close to 50,000 South Africans have died due to Covid-19 with more than 1,5 million infections recorded.

Picture source: @AFP