Durban - The vaccine roll-out could be a mammoth logistical task, said Covid-19 Ministerial Advisory Committee chairperson, Professor Salim Abdool Karim.
The delay in getting a Covid-19 vaccine roll-out, warn some experts, could lead to a third wave of infections.
The Department of Health expects to take first delivery of coronavirus vaccines by the middle of this year under the Covax initiative, which is backed by the World Health Organization.
Alex van den Heever, professor of social security systems administration at Wits University, Johannesburg, said further surges were inevitable so long as a large population susceptible to infection exists in South Africa.
“The local version of the epidemic is largely driven by contexts amenable to super-spreading events. The moment restrictions are withdrawn, there is a tendency for people to return to normal social behaviour which inevitably includes super-spreading. While more manageable in hot weather, winter conditions are more conducive to super-spreading,” Van den Heever said.
He added that the country could expect a further resurgence in winter if we have not rolled out vaccines at sufficient scale by that time.
“In the absence of a vaccine, all countries would experience successive surges in infections until such time as herd immunity has resulted through natural infections. This could take years. It is only through vaccines that herd immunity can be achieved rapidly,” Van den Heever concluded.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said while the country has seen some promising signs of declining new Covid-19 cases compared to the previous week, the second wave continues to put a massive burden on the health-care system.
Karim said one in three tests are coming in positive as the country battles the second wave, higher than the first wave.
“This drastic change is largely driven by the virus that certainly biologically looks like it can attach to human cells more efficiently. But we’re still in the throes of the second wave. We know it subjectively, we know it anecdotally, from what we find in our own families and neighbourhoods, and now we can see the impact it has overall within the provinces,” he said.
Karim cited a study that shows that 501.V2 is 50% is more transmissible than the previous variants found in South Africa.
“In KwaZulu-Natal, it’s 39% faster – it took 54 days in the first wave and 33 days in the second wave,” he said.
“Is there evidence where the Covid-19 vaccines are effective against this variant? I’m so sorry to tell you, not yet. However, many scientists across the world are working on this. We don’t yet have an answer but we’re expecting an answer very soon.”
He said there was much to speculate about on this, but he wanted to see actual data, which was not yet available.”
Karim is predicting that the vaccine roll-out will not be easy or quick, but a task that will need all hands on deck.
He has said the country is looking at vaccines that have a high efficacy rate.