March 25, 2021

Questions over ’slow’ pace of SA’s Covid-19 vaccine roll-out

Durban – The alliance between the public and private sectors would be key to South Africa reaching Covid-19 vaccination targets.

This was according to Dr Johannes Belle from the Disaster Management Training and Education Centre at the University of the Free State. He was commenting on the country’s vaccination roll-out plan.

Responding to questions from members of Parliament, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the department was still hoping to vaccinate as many as possible of the 40 million people to reach herd immunity by year-end.

Belle said the public and private sector alliance such as medical aid companies would be key for the country to meet the target effectively and timeously.

He said the country, which has the highest number of Covid-19 cases in Africa, could have rolled out vaccines sooner.

“I personally think that South Africa was very late in acquiring and rolling out vaccines,” said Belle.

Independent public health practitioner and AU Youth Advisory Council member Dr Shakira Choonara said while there was some progress, it was not enough.

Choonara said the vaccination roll-out response was very slow as the December target was quite late.

“That is unacceptable. We are speaking to so many other countries at the moment which have already vaccinated such a large component of the population,” she said.

“I think that the vaccination strategy is all over the place. We don’t have clarity on procurement, on vaccinating the rest of the population. We have made a bit of a start but we are very far from full coverage,” said Choonara.

Professor Thumbi Ndung’u, deputy director of the African Health Research Institute, said it was not clear what South Africa was trying to achieve and that he did not actually know what the government targets were.

Ndung’u said while the phased vaccination approach made sense, the specific targets and time frame were unclear.

“Al I can say is that we are clearly moving very slow overall. If we are to avoid surges and new waves we need to be vaccinating people at a much faster rate than we are doing currently,” he said

Mkhize told Parliament that 43 million doses of the vaccine had been secured from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and Covax. According to the department’s Covid-19 statistics from Wednesday, 128 887 vaccines have been administered.

In terms of the time frame for the delivery of vaccine doses apart from the doses to be received by the end of this quarter, in the second quarter from April to June, Mkhize said 5 million doses from Pfizer and 3 million from Johnson & Johnson were expected.

“These will be used to finalise vaccinations of health-care workers in Phase 2.”

From July to September, quarter three, it was anticipated that 7.6 million doses from Pfizer and 4 million from Johnson & Johnson would be received to complete Phase 2 of the roll-out.

In the last quarter from October to December, 7 million Pfizer doses are anticipated to be received, and 4 million from Johnson & Johnson to complete Phase 3.

However, he said these targets would be subjected to delays by the manufacturers.

“The fact that there may be delays in the supply of vaccination may impact on the exact numbers of people that would have been successfully vaccinated.”

The rate of vaccination was dependent on the flow of vaccines, he said.

“We anticipate that the numbers of vaccines will rapidly increase from April, May, June, and therefore we will then be in a position to escalate the numbers of people who get vaccinated.”

Mkhize said the target dates would continue to be reviewed as vaccine supplies come through.

Responding to criticism of the vaccination roll-out programme, Mkhize said the plan was not “haphazard” and that other countries were also subject to the same manufacturer challenges.

Until the majority of South Africans were vaccinated the possibility of a third or fourth wave could not be ruled out, he said.

The Mercury

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