On Wednesday, 20 July, staff from the University of Cape Town’s (UCT) Faculty of Health Sciences came together with representatives from the Western Cape Government at the UCT Community of Hope Vaccination Centre at Forest Hill Residence to acknowledge the centre’s significance in the fight against COVID-19 and to thank its staff for their contributions.
The centre opened on 1 September 2021 with the aim of providing quality vaccination services to UCT staff, students and the nearby communities, as well as to create an opportunity for medical students from the Faculty of Health Sciences to gain practical public health skills.
“We had three key objectives for the Community of Hope Vaccination Centre. One, we wanted to deliver high-quality, dependable and accessible vaccination services to the UCT student population. Secondly, we wanted to provide efficient vaccination access to underserved schools, businesses and people from the surrounding community.
“Thirdly, we wanted to offer a platform to support the Faculty of Health Sciences and its undergraduates to gain practical and demonstrable skills, and to see public health in action,” explained Dr Kathryn Grammer, southern and western director for the provincial Department of Health.
“Many people have contacted us individually and said, ‘Thank you’, because of the dignity and respect they were treated with.”
The centre has no doubt achieved these objectives, with a total of 26 413 vaccinations administered and hundreds of medical students educated in the 45 weeks since the service opened. What’s more, it has been a firm favourite among testing centres due to the warm reception and professional service provided by its staff.
“Many people have contacted us individually and said, ‘Thank you’, because of the dignity and respect they were treated with when they visited,” said Western Cape Government health and wellness chief operating officer, Dr Saadiq Kariem.
Faculty of Health Sciences Deputy Dean: Undergraduate Studies, Dr Kerrin Begg, emphasised this point, sharing her personal experience of having used the centre’s services. “I came in for my own vaccinations. I brought my children in for the vaccinations. I brought my parents … And I have to say that, personally, my own experience was just that this was just the best vaccination centre.”
A teaching and learning success
According to Dr Begg, the ability to train future healthcare workers to learn through service was one of the greatest opportunities presented by the centre. “One of the things we did during COVID-19, when students were initially pulled off the platform, was to start to conceive of this idea of learning through serving and serving through learning. Students still had to learn to be nurses and doctors, so they still needed exposure.
“So, the ability [of] our students to come into this space and be able to administer vaccinations to the public as part of this campaign was just an incredible opportunity that we are so grateful for,” she said.
“Part of having students in the space was also to show them that this really wasn’t something to be afraid of.”
In addition to being an instrument of learning, the centre has also been key in helping to fight misinformation surrounding the vaccines and encourage uptake of the inoculation – not only among members of the public, but also student healthcare workers.
“Part of having students in the space was also to show them that this really wasn’t something to be afraid of,” Begg noted.
The value added by this education among both students and the public, said Dr Grammer, was priceless. “What was amazing about this project is that, really quickly, we mobilised working with the Faculty of Health Sciences to embed students into direct service delivery.
“Students engaged with clients as part of a multi-disciplinary team where they could support, educate and provide additional information after the procedure about how to deal with any post-vaccination effects, should there be any.
“That built trust with the students and evoked trust in the managers and cemented that there’s a way of doing things where you can both train and learn and provide direct key services to clients coming into the system. I think that is empowering and it made the students feel very valued,” she said.
Modelling future collaborations
In addition to the opportunities for teaching and learning opened up by the Community of Hope Vaccination Centre, it has also provided an excellent basis on which future collaborative projects between UCT and the Western Cape Government can be modelled.
“Particularly from the faculty and the university, the partnership was really an incredible opportunity to explore new ways of teaching and partnering. The centre has really been a model for how we can do things going forward.
“We really look forward to the department and us doing more collaborative projects that look at wellness initiatives in the future,” said Begg.
This sentiment was echoed by Dr Kariem. “The relationship between UCT and the Western Cape Government goes back many years – between individuals and between the institutions – and although the centre is now closing, there are already conversations about how this relationship can be strengthened and deepened.
“We know that this was a model of how we can work together, between the university and the province, in terms of our joint projects; how training could be conducted, how students could intervene in other areas,” he noted.
“Being forced to look at things slightly differently because of the pandemic has driven us to strengthen this bilateral relationship between UCT and the province, as well as other universities and the province. This centre, for me, exemplifies that we can actually achieve that.”
Moving forward with hope
While the vaccination centre will cease operations on 29 July, Grammer emphasised the importance of continuing to encourage the public to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and keep their inoculation up to date with booster shots.
“Although the centre is closing, there still needs to be an emphasis on encouraging people to have their primary doses as well as boosters. Although [positive test results] and hospitalisation are both low at the moment, we don’t know what’s around the corner with new variants.
“Natural immunity and vaccine immunity have a limited lifespan, so we need to be encouraging everybody to get vaccinated to protect themselves from hospitalisation,” she explained.
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