The Shoprite Group has issued an urgent call to the government to allow its more than 140,000 employees to receive vaccinations as the third wave of Covid-19 increases in severity.
The supermarket group is South Africa’s largest private-sector employer, and it says that these employees are frontline workers who serve over 25 million people a month.
While retail workers are classified as essential under the country’s lockdown regulations, in an address on Sunday evening (27 June), president Cyril Ramaphosa said that the mining, manufacturing and taxi industry would be next in line to receive vaccines after teachers and police officers.
Shoprite said it is critical that government prioritises the allocation of vaccines to its frontline workers, which it will source and administer at its own cost and through its own logistics and pharmaceutical infrastructure.
“Our frontline workers, including cashiers, merchandisers and line management retail workers, have been at work every day since the onset of the pandemic, working tirelessly to ensure we provide food, essential groceries and medicine to the nation,” said Pieter Engelbrecht, Shoprite Group chief executive.
“Our people interact with 25 million customers coming into our stores every month, and it is critical that they be vaccinated,” he said.
“We strongly believe that they should be prioritised and we are ready to roll out vaccinations on behalf of the government to our employees who continue to go the extra mile in challenging conditions to keep serving customers.”
Engelbrecht said the group has a significant logistical and pharmaceutical distribution network to roll out vaccines to employees through Transpharm Pharmaceutical Distributors and pharmacy chain MediRite.
“As the last few weeks have shown, South Africa will continue to be vulnerable to future waves of Covid-19 until we have vaccinated a sufficient percentage of our population,” Engelbrecht said.
“The group is eager to see the vaccine roll-out programme accelerated and we can help if we can secure and administer vaccines while absorbing all the costs ourselves. We are prepared to play a role and foot the bill, and we can ensure it will happen rapidly.”
Next in line
Debates are raging on who among ‘essential workers’ in South Africa should be next in line to get vaccinated.
The government told the South African National Editors Forum this week that journalists would be prioritised for vaccines when the rollout expands – however, this has been criticised in some quarters, where it has been pointed out that other workers like petrol attendants, waiters and cashiers are more on the front-line and should be given preference.
The Fuel Retailers Association of South Africa (FRA) this week echoed Shoprite’s sentiments saying that forecourt attendants and cashiers at service stations interact with thousands of people every day, and are at risk of infection.
“Since the first announcement of the vaccination rollout programme, our members have not stopped calling for the prioritisation of petrol service stations… Phase 2 was supposed to be essential workers… which includes us,” said Reggie Sibiya, FRA CEO.
“For us, clearly, the government is not speaking to its original rollout plan… The criteria for prioritisation are not transparent, they keep changing based on who makes the loudest noise.”