By Fiona Wakelin
NRF A-rated scientist, CEO and President of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Professor Glenda Gray is a qualified paediatrician, co-founder of the internationally recognised Perinatal HIV Research Unit in Soweto and is one of the experts on the Ministerial Advisory Committee, co-chaired Professor Salim Abdool Karim, currently advising government on how to combat COVID-19. The committee includes professors from a variety of health, infectious diseases, epidemiology and other specialities.
We need to practice patience
As South Africa proceeds with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout, vaccinating all healthcare workers first, Glenda urges the public to remain ‘patient’, and avoid jumping long queues at vaccination stations, as we are all experiencing a major learning curve which requires us to be agile.
“We know people are desperate and anxious. We hear about fraud but we need names to investigate. We take any fraudulent activity very seriously and would open up a criminal case”, Glenda cautions.
Due to an increase in fraud, it is now a requirement that all health workers formally provide their credentials at the vaccination sites. Glenda urges the public to remember that these healthcare professionals have been hard at work, saving lives, for days without end, as out frontline defense. Despite these cracks in the road, the vaccine rollout plan has been a major success thus far.
“Nobody has ever done this before so there are huge challenges. This is not just a rollout but a rollout under study conditions and we are learning every day”, says Glenda. “The teams are magnificent. They are working very hard and we hit the 100,000 mark.”
Consistently making progress
On Friday the 5th of March 2021, the 100,000 vaccinated healthcare workers milestone was achieved. “On the whole it is going very well. A lot of people are upbeat and happy about being vaccinated and how it is going, but you can’t please everybody”, she commented.
Going forward, Glenda provides the following projections for South Africa, for upcoming months:
“As winter begins we can expect to see an increase in hospital admissions for both influenzae and COVID-19. We will experience the epidemic in winter, and hopefully towards spring, the epidemic will start to ease up.”
“The risk adjusted strategy [lockdown] is the most sensible approach to both manage the epidemic in South Africa as well as open up the country for business”, said Glenda.
With a bright future ahead, many are still quite anxious with regards to contracting the virus, despite the gradual decline in infections, and developing immunities. “People who have had the virus will develop immunity, however we are hearing reports of re-infection, so we still need to establish how long the immunity lasts and what the predisposing risks are for re-infection, and what the course of re-infection looks like. We are still trying to understand this epidemic, and the natural history of COVID-19”, Glenda explains.
Balancing work and wellness
Although she loves her job and the difference she is making across our nation, Glenda reminds herself to take time out, avoid burnout, and spend time relaxing too. “I am listening to Bob Dylan, his early works, to relax. I am also re-reading one of his biographies. He takes me back to my childhood and my life as a young adult, and his lyrics are inspirational. I like my treadmill in the garage, and that sorts my head out, and calms me”, she says.
“I am trying to learn to have down time, walk in the garden with a cup of tea, and now more recently, spend 10-15 minutes attacking a puzzle while sitting by my dining room table – it is incredibly difficult, but triggers paths in my brain that do me good.”
With the great strides Dr. Glenda Gray and her team are making, the public can trust that their well-being is being considered, and is in trustworthy hands. As we progress, the country is expecting 1.1-million Covid-19 vaccines by the end of March, with between 8 million and 10 million more to be expected to arrive, as of the April-June period.