South Africa's roll-out plan requires everyone to register on the EVDS prior to receiving their vaccine. (Ernesto Benavides)
  • In urban areas, the electronic vaccination data system (EVDS) will allocate a site within 10km from your work or home for vaccination. In rural areas it will assign you a centre within 30km of the address you entered into the system.
  • The system won’t allow you to register if you’re not a health worker or person of 60 years and older until the health department has opened up the next category for registration.
  • A list of vaccination sites will soon be published on the government’s coronavirus website and will be updated each week.

This week, the EVDS sent out the country’s first text messages for COVID vaccination appointments — but not without problems. 

All the healthcare workers and people of 60 years and older who received messages got the notifications on short notice, mostly the afternoon or night before the day of their appointments. This resulted in many of them being unable to make the appointments and led to questions on social media about how to reschedule a consultation. 

Load shedding also disabled the EVDS at times and vaccinators therefore often had to record vaccinations manually, instead of directly onto the EVDS. 

Moreover, on the first day of the roll-out, some people who had received appointment messages arrived at sites where they were turned away because vaccinators hadn’t been informed that they were booked for appointments, due to a glitch in the system. 

But Nicholas Crisp, the deputy director general in charge of South Africa’s National Health Insurance system, who also helps to manage the implementation of the vaccine roll-out, says most of these problems have now been addressed. 

We asked him to answer seven of the questions.

1. How does the EVDS decide which vaccination site to send you to for an appointment?

The system will automatically allocate a site to you that is close to the home or work address that you entered. In urban areas it will allocate a site within 10km of that address and in rural areas a centre within 30km of where you live or work.

2. How long after you registered on the EVDS will you receive an sms for an appointment?

There is no set time for how long this will take. Why? Because it depends on how many active vaccination sites there are in the area where you live. If you live in a town where there are several sites, you’ll receive an sms quicker than someone who resides in a part of the country where there are currently few or no sites. 

The number of vaccines allocated to a site is based on the number of people the EVDS has booked at that site. As more sites become available, the time that you will wait between registering on the EVDS and receiving an appointment message will become shorter.

This week started off with 87 vaccination sites, but more sites are being added daily as more staff are trained to use the system. The goal is to have 200 sites by the end of this week.  

A site list, that will contain all public and private vaccination sites, will be published on sacoronavirus.co.za (the health department hasn’t yet announced a date for this). The list will be updated weekly, as not all sites will be active all the time. The site list that is currently (May 19) on the website is not the phase one B and two sites; it’s a list of the 92 sites that were used for South Africa’s COVID vaccine implementation study, Sisonke. Some of those sites are also being used for the phase one B and two roll-out, but not all.

The EVDS follows the rule “first in, first out”: So those who registered first, will get appointments first. In other words, if you fall in the people of 60 years and older category, and you’re 80, but registered after someone who is 65, the person who is 65 will get an appointment before you. 

However, this does not apply to the broader roll-out plan, where age is, in fact, a factor: People of 60 and older are vaccinated before people who are 40 and older, and although these two groups both fall into phase two of the roll-out, people of 60 and older are served first. But without a certain category, such as people of 60 and older or people of 40 and older, the EVDS doesn’t allocate appointments based on age, but on who registered first.

3. Can you currently register if you’re not a healthcare worker or person of 60 and older?

No. The EVDS won’t allow you to do that until the health department announces that the next category (people living in crowded environments such as prisons, and people of 40 and older) can register. In the case of health workers, a person needs to indicate that they’re a health worker and arrive at a site with proof of their employment. 

If you’re younger than 60, the EVDS will automatically calculate your age from your ID number and tell you you’re too young to get vaccinated right now. If you don’t have an ID number, you’d have to enter your age and provide proof of how old you are at a vaccination site. 

The vaccination roll-out uses age, rather than comorbidities to determine when you will get vaccinated. People with comorbidities won’t be prioritised for vaccination, because studies have shown that age is an even stronger predictor than comorbidities for whether or not you will end up in hospital or die because of COVID. Many comorbidities are also more common among older people, which means that a sizable portion of comorbidities are automatically covered if older people are vaccinated first.

4. Can you register twice?

Technically, it is possible to register twice on the EVDS. If you’d like to change your details, for instance, change your address, you’d have to register again — this way, your details will be updated. But the health department doesn’t recommend that you re-register and says the number of times that you register won’t make a difference to how soon you will be given an appointment date.

5. What happens if you missed your vaccination appointment or if a vaccination site ran out of vaccines and couldn’t help you?

The short answer: The EVDS will automatically reschedule you for a next appointment and send you an sms with a date. 

The longer version: The EVDS has an algorithm that will detect if you missed an appointment (because a vaccinator wouldn’t have confirmed your vaccination by entering your voucher number into the system) and then reschedule you — but only for up to two times.

How soon you will receive an sms for a new appointment depends on how many vaccination centres there are in the area where you live (in other words, how soon an opening becomes available). 

If you missed two appointments, you will have to re-register on the system. You can do that by re-registering online via the website, WhatsApp or USSD service, by visiting a site where an administrative team will help you to re-register, or by calling the COVID helpline on 0800 029 999 and ask them to re-register you. The helpline number is toll free from both a landline and cell phone. The vaccination helpline is active from 8am to 6pm and managed by an outside company. When you call the helpline you will be asked to press “one” for general COVID-related health information (don’t choose this option) and “two” for help to register for a vaccination (choose this option).

6. How do you schedule an appointment if you’re on medical aid?

The EVDS will ask you if you have a medical aid. If you do, you will need to enter the name of the scheme and also your medical aid number. 

Some medical schemes, such as Discovery Health, will also ask you to register on a separate system, so that they can send you information about vaccines. You will, however, still need to register on the EVDS, as it’s the only way to book an appointment, regardless of whether you’re vaccinated at a public or private site, or have medical insurance.

Your medical aid has to follow the rules of the roll-out, so they’re only allowed to vaccinate a certain age group once the health department has announced that the age group has become eligible for vaccination. A medical scheme can, for instance, not vaccinate people of 40 and older if the health department has determined that only people of 60 and older can be vaccinated at that time.

7. What happens if you don’t have any form of ID such as an identity document, passport, asylum seeking or refugee number?

The health department is working on a system that will allow people without identity documents to get vaccinated, as South Africa also has thousands of undocumented migrants and also people in prison and mental health institutions without identity documents. Details of this system have, however, not yet been announced.

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Mia Malan is Bhekisisa's editor-in-chief and executive director. Under her leadership, Bhekisisa’s online readership increased 30 fold and its donor funding eightfold between 2013 and 2019. Malan has won more than 20 African journalism awards for her work and is a former fellow of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford University.