Durban – The UN International Children’s Emergency Fund (Unicef) has welcomed South Africa’s 50% Covid-19 vaccination coverage.
Unicef said that more than half of South Africa’s adults 18 years old and above had received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, according to the latest data from the National Department of Health (NDoH).
The milestone was reached 15 months after the first Covid-19 vaccine was administered but despite the progress renewed momentum is needed to reach the 70% target by the end of 2022. Youth vaccination rates are concerning, with 37% of young people between 18 – 34 years old having taken a Covid-19 shot and nearly 30% between 12 –17 years old.
Unicef South Africa chief of communication Toby Fricker said: “We have reached a critical stage in the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out.”
“The challenge now is to further increase coverage by encouraging and actively engaging young people in the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out.”
A Unicef U-Report poll in August 2021 showed that 86% of youth, between15 – 24 years old, think the Covid-19 vaccine is important for their health to some degree but only 55%would get vaccinated. While progress has been made, barriers slowing vaccination uptake still exist. These include not knowing where to go, concerns over the safety and efficacy of vaccines, as well as cost and time in accessing health facilities. Misinformation online and off-line also influences young people.
“Vaccination provides the best protection from hospitalisation and death,” Fricker said.
“That’s why this milestone is very welcome because the majority of adults in South Africa have taken the decision to better protect themselves from the virus.”
Unicef South Africa works with the National Department of Health and provincial departments to roll out Covid-19 and routine childhood immunisations, including through cold chain management support and risk communication and community engagement. This includes:
- Cold chain system strengthening through equipment procurement and electronic inventory management, as well as technical support to provincial cold chain systems with consultants embedded in the NDoH.
- Vaccine management training targeting front-line vaccinators and logisticians.
- Vaccine demand creation through the Zwakala campaign and other initiatives using multimedia content and social mobilisation, reaching more than 20 million people.
- Community engagement through the “Truck” – a multimedia messenger on wheels reaching almost 2 million people, alongside social mobilisation efforts and pop-up vaccination sites.
More than 500 Unicef youth volunteers assist the elderly with vaccine information and registration, helping some 50 000 people.
Youth-led community radio programmes reaching more than 800 000 people in marginalised communities, some 74% of listeners surveyed reported shifting their attitudes to decide on vaccination.
Unicef said the focus now was on 29 districts identified by the NDoH as having particularly low vaccination coverage.
The fund partners in the Covid-19 vaccination response include the South African Red Cross Society, Children’s Radio Foundation, World Vision, Heartlines, Oak Foundation, Community Media Trust and other community-based organisations.
Unicef’s national Covid-19 and routine childhood vaccination efforts are made possible thanks to the generous support of donors including Cotton On, the governments of Germany and Japan, and ACT-A funding.
Meanwhile, on Friday, Minister of Health Dr Joe Phaahla and U.S. Chargé d’Affaires Heather Merritt will announce a surge of support to South Africa through Global VAX in Pietermaritzburg, in the district of uMgungundlovu, KwaZulu-Natal.
Global VAX is a US Government effort to contribute to the global goal to vaccinate 70% of the population of every country against Covid-19 this year. This approach builds on the extraordinary commitment President Biden has made to donate more than 1.2 billion Covid-19 vaccine doses by the end of this year and intensifies the US efforts to get shots in arms.
The department said that as part of ongoing efforts to increase access to the Covid-19 vaccine, the Department of Health and Right-to-Care, supported by USAID, has developed a web-based app called FindMyJab.co.za to make it easy for South Africans to locate vaccination site closer to their places of work or residence.
The event serves to celebrate the partnership between the governments and people of South Africa and the US.
The launch will be in the form of a community event, including door-to-door community engagement, led by a delegation consisting of the Minister of Health and the leadership of the US Government in South Africa.