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South Africa vaccine train takes doses to remote areas

A person receives a COVID-19 vaccine on a train at the Swartkops railroad yard outside Gqeberha, South Africa, Thursday Sept. 23, 2021.   -  
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Jerome Delay/Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

South Africa

A COVID-19 vaccine train in South Africa is providing a way of reaching out into the community and persuading people to protect themselves and those around them from the virus.

Vaccine hesitancy, together with access to facilities in remote areas, are some of the major stumbling blocks to the vaccine rollout program in the country.

Many people do not trust that vaccines are safe and through information spread through social media, are not willing to take the shot.

For Thembalwethu Jokwana, getting vaccinated is something he believes he has to do, not only for himself but to also protect those closest to him.

"I am here to vaccinate, to protect myself and my family. I'm staying with my father and his wife. My father had diabetes, so I'm trying to protect them and my mom and me so that we can be safe," he said.

His friend Wongalwethu Mbanjwa, a gym fanatic, couldn't wait to get vaccinated so he can finally get back to the gym. After trying to get his jab elsewhere and finding the facility closed, he heard about the vaccination train from his friend Jokwana, who gets to and from work by passenger train and spotted the Transvaco train on his way home.

"My friend, when he come from work, he uses the train as a transport, you know, so when...his stop is here in the Swartkop. So, when he came, you know, at home today he told me about this so that we can go and get vaccinated...We started somewhere else but it was closed. So, he said to me, no man, I saw a train at Swartkops so we must come here. So that's how (laughs) I come here," said Mbanjwa.

Doctor and train manager Dr Paballo Mokwana explains that the train mandate is to vaccinate as many people as possible while making its way through various towns in South Africa. She says there is still a long road ahead and would encourage as many people as possible to get vaccinated.

Mokwana says that through their outreach program, where a team is assigned off-site to vaccinate staff members at various companies and factories around Swartkops station, has been helpful in bringing up the numbers of people vaccinated in the area.

Untsaphokazi Singaph who works at Welfit Oddy, a factory that specializes in the manufacture and sales of tank containers, arrived for her second dose with a smile on her face. As she goes through the checks and balances, she is excited to let the staff know that this is her last jab.

"I am happy, and I feel at peace," she said, adding: "I least I know that I am safe and so are my children and others around me. So, I am really at peace with the fact that I'm done. I have been waiting for the moment where I too can say that I am among the vaccinated in South Africa."

Mokwana is optimistic about the role the train can plan in reaching heard immunity for South African to get back to "whatever is left of normal," as soon as possible.