People sit in line at a Discovery COVID-19 vaccination site
  • In an effort to increase the pace of vaccinations, the government will now cover the cost of walk-ins at private vaccine sites if you don’t belong to a medical aid.
  • A reimbursement system is being set up so that private sites are reimbursed for the costs of vaccinating uninsured people.
  • People between 50 and 59 years can try to get vaccinated without an appointment, but it is up to the individual sites to decide if they will accept walk-ins.

A circular, issued on July 5, has replaced the guidelines the health department announced on June 4 to walk-in vaccinations. 

We answer four questions about what this means for people trying to secure a jab without an appointment.

1. Who can register to receive a COVID vaccine?

COVID-19 vaccines in South Africa are available to people of 50 years and older as well as healthcare workers, as of July 5.

Teachers and police officers are also receiving the vaccine as part of the public sector’s essential worker programme. This programme will eventually also include the departments of correctional services, defense, social development, home affairs, justice and the national prosecuting authority.

Mining, manufacturing and the taxi industry have also started vaccinations and in this instance companies are responsible for vaccinating their employees.

The health department is making preparations to open registrations for the 40 to 49-year age group so that more people can line up for jabs when demand from older groups slows down.

If you need to get vaccinated as part of the general roll-out (in other words not as part of an essential worker group or workplace programme), you need to register on the government’s electronic vaccine data system (EVDS). 

Infographic on vaccine registrations

There are five ways to register: on the internet, on WhatsApp, via USSD code on your phone, in-person at a vaccination site and through community health workers sent to your community by the department of health. The Western Cape also has 75 centres with computers, internet access and assistants available in communities which residents can visit to register.

Once registered you will get an initial sms confirming your registration along with a vaccination code. A second sms will be sent with details of your appointment — appointment messages arrive about three days before your appointment.

The EVDS will use your vaccination voucher code to track when you are due for your second shot if you got vaccinated with a jab that requires two doses.

Even if you just turn up at a site without an appointment, you will need to be registered on the EVDS (so you need to have an sms that says that you’ve successfully registered). Some sites will help you to get registered when you arrive, but that depends on individual sites’ capacity.

2. How does registration work for healthcare workers?

At this stage, healthcare workers can’t register on the EVDS. Instead, a new registration platform has been set-up for them at www.v4hcw.co.za.

This new platform was created to prevent people from falsely registering on the system as healthcare workers in order to get vaccinated. It was created by the national health department and the Unity Forum for Family Practitioners following concerns that the EVDS was being exploited by people who were not actually healthcare workers.

All healthcare workers who have already registered with their professional body and who were previously registered on the EVDS will automatically be transferred onto this new database. Healthcare workers who are employed by the department of health can use their Personnel & Salary System (PERSAL) number to register on www.v4hcw.co.za and book their appointments.

Healthcare workers who are not registered with a professional body and do not have a PERSAL number from the department of health will need to have their details verified by their employer before being able to register on the V4HCW system.

Employers need to give the department the details of their workers by filling in this document and sending it to [email protected]. The employer is held responsible for verifying that only employees who currently qualify for a vaccine are included in the list.

The deadline for registrations on the V4HCW platform is July 31 2021.

Gauteng residents receive their COVID-19 vaccines
Gauteng residents get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Diepsloot. Source: Motalatale Modiba/Gauteng health department

3. Can you walk into a vaccination site?

Yes — but only if you are in the current qualifying category set by the department of health. At this time that only applies to people of 50 years and older, as well as health workers.

It is up to the vaccine site manager to decide if they will accept walk-in vaccines on a particular day. That decision usually involves a few considerations.

Site managers review how much vaccine stock they have at a given time and compare it to the number of scheduled appointments that are set to arrive on that day. They can only factor in doses for those without appointments (walk-ins) once they have a sense of how many people have not shown up for their booked appointments on the day.

Accepting walk-ins also comes with a few rules:

  • Those with scheduled appointments are first up to get a shot. Site managers need to make sure that there is enough stock for scheduled appointments to be vaccinated before they allow walk-ins to get the jab.
  • Even if you’re a walk-in, you still have to be registered on the EVDS. Should you arrive without registering, the site must first sign you up on the system before you can get a jab. Don’t forget to bring a proof of age in the form of your ID book, passport or driver’s license.
  • You are not guaranteed to get a vaccine on the day you walk in and may be asked to return on another day depending on the capacity of the site on that day.
  • Sites are encouraged to have a separate queue for walk-ins so that scheduled appointments can be prioritised.

4. What happens if you don’t have medical aid?

All vaccination sites, in both public and private sectors, can now choose to accept walk-ins. This is enabled by a sales and distribution agreement between the government and private sector vaccinators.

In the past, the government wouldn’t pay for walk-ins of people without medical aid at private vaccine sites, unless they were 80 years or older.

This has now changed and the health department will reimburse the cost for all uninsured people who are getting vaccinated.

“No-one should be turned away based on their medical aid status,” reads the health department circular.

But, it remains the choice of a private site whether they accept walk-ins of people without medical aid.

5. Where can you go to get a COVID vaccine?

While private sector sites are encouraged to accept unscheduled vaccinees (walk-ins) who don’t have medical aid, the department cannot legally make private providers accept these walk-ins, according to the health department’s Anban Pillay.

So far, two large private providers, Dischem and Discovery have announced that they will accept walk-ins from uninsured people. But in the case of Discovery sites, you can’t just turn up at the site, you need to register on their web portal to book an appointment (and also be registered on the EVDS). Dischem also encourages people to register on their site to book an appointment, but they do also help people who just turn up and are registered on the EVDS. Those people will, however, wait for longer to be helped than people who had booked appointments. 

Reimbursements for people without medical aid who do walk-ins at private vaccination sites will be facilitated by the national health department along with a company called MediKredit once technicalities are ironed out.

This is part of an effort to accelerate the vaccination programme across the country, for both uninsured and insured people.

In Gauteng, all public sites are also accepting walk-ins and the provincial health department is transporting people by bus to local vaccine sites free of charge. For now, that only applies to the Ekurhuleni, Tshwane and Johannesburg regions.

We created a map to make it easy to find a public vaccination site in Gauteng.

The province is also using mobile vaccination sites at South African Social Security Agency pay points to vaccinate social grant recipients who are eligible to get the vaccine.

The head of the Western Cape health department, Keith Cloete, says the department’s policy on walk-ins is now in line with the national health department’s policy. 

Speaking at the launch of a mass vaccination site at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, which will aim to vaccinate 4 000 people per day, Cloete explained that for walk-ins their sites will “prioritise people over 60 for their first dose, people over 60 for their second dose and then people over 50 for their first dose”.

Western Cape Premier Alan Winde says people over the age of 60 should not wait to get an sms with their appointment details. They can come to any public site and will be prioritised for a jab.

6. How much does it cost to get vaccinated?

Infographic showing vaccines are free to all

It is completely free to get a COVID vaccine — regardless of your insurance.

No one may be charged anything at a vaccination site when receiving their jab.

The cost of your jab will be covered by the state for those without insurance or by your medical aid scheme, if you belong to one.

Uninsured and insured people are being scheduled to both public and private sites based only on the nearest site to the address given to the EVDS.

[Update 07 July 2021 15:00 This article was updated to reflect new guidelines from the health department issued on the 5th of July 2021]

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Health journalist and television producer

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Aisha Abdool Karim is a senior health reporter at Bhekisisa.