Masterclass with Michael J Deml

Thursday, 9 June 2022
Hemsley Suite, Reid Library
Honours Students, Postgraduate Students, Early Career Researchers, Academics, Professional Researchers




Public health official and authorities? experiences and perspectives on the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Western Cape, South Africa: A qualitative study

A VaxPolLab Seminar with Michael J. Deml, Institute of Sociological Research, Department of Sociology, University of Geneva, Switzerland, and Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences, School of Public Health & Family Medicine, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Chaired by Associate Professor Katie Attwell

South Africa has been in the global limelight several times since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At times, this was due to local scientists being among the world?s first to detect certain SARS-CoV-2 variants, such as the Beta variant (B.1.351) in May 2020 and the Omicron variant (B.1.1.529) in November 2021. The country has also received global attention due to its strict lockdowns, including bans on sales of cigarettes and alcohol, and due to it being listed as a high-risk travel country during the first two years of the pandemic. South Africa represents an interesting case study for understanding the COVID-19 pandemic because it situated in a context where a technically savvy scientific workforce and strict COVID-19 public health mitigation measures and policies nonetheless yielded less-than-ideal results, such as the highest case incidences on the African continent and less than 31% of the eligible population being fully vaccinated against COVID-19 (as of May 3, 2022).

This study specifically investigates the COVID-19 vaccine rollout efforts in South Africa. During this talk, Dr Deml will present preliminary findings from an ongoing qualitative investigation into the COVID-19 vaccine rollout in the Western Cape province. He conducted 9 semi-structured interviews with public health and government officials who have been involved in the planning, programming, and implementation of the COVID-19 rollout. Preliminary results show how key informants found innovative ways to implement a mass-scale vaccination rollout effort. Such innovation relied upon officials? and authorities? pre-existing professional networks, which resulted in supplementary resources being made available for public health efforts, such as university laboratory space for adequate vaccination cooling and storage. Key informants reported how beginning vaccination with specific priority groups allowed for small scale piloting of mass administration efforts, which served as a learning experience for upscaling efforts for the next steps of the rollout. Others reported how services and actors took on different roles for mass vaccination efforts. A notable example comes from the creation of the `Vaxi Taxi? service, which involved sending teams of trained medical staff in ambulances to underserved communities with inadequate medical infrastructure for vaccination administration. Study results overall allow us to reflect on the lessons learned during the rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination in the Western Cape.

Michael J. Deml, Associate Researcher, holds a PhD in Epidemiology and Public Health from the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Basel and a Master of Arts in Sociology from the University of Geneva.

He has been involved in PAN-FIGHT: Improved Risk Communication during Pandemics, a comparative study analyzing the risk communication strategies and risk mitigation strategies around COVID-19 in 5 countries (Germany, Norway, Sweden, Switzerland, United Kingdom).

He has also co-led a junior research initiative, funded by the Swiss National Science Foundation's National Research Programme 74, with Katharina Tabea Jungo, PhD, MSc from the Bern Institute for Family Medicine (BIHAM) and the University of Bern entitled Continuity in Primary Care for At-Risk Populations during the COVID-19 Epidemic in Switzerland: A Mixed-Methods Study.

Michael has obtained Early Postdoc. Mobility funding through the Swiss National Science Foundation for a research stint of 18 months at the University of Cape Town in the School of Public Health and Family Medicine in the Division of Social and Behavioural Sciences from September 2021 to February 2023. He is studying the implementation of COVID-19 vaccination programs in the South African context through the project entitled: Prevention, Planning, and Policy: A COVID-19 Vaccine and Beyond.

Dr Deml is a 2022 UWA Institute of Advanced Studies Visiting Fellow.

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