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5 signs that SA’s vaccine strategy is not working

A man reads a book while waiting to be vaccinated in Brackenfell. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

A man reads a book while waiting to be vaccinated in Brackenfell. Picture Henk Kruger/African News Agency(ANA)

Published May 18, 2021

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CAPE TOWN - South Africa’s phase 2 of the Covid-19 vaccination programme to vaccinate 5.4 million citizens 60 years and above finally got off the ground on Monday.

While the day marked the turning point in the country’s 14-month fight against the pandemic, most of the sites were able to proceed, a large number of vaccines were captured on paper and the numbers are being reconciled.

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SA Medical Association chairperson Dr Angelique Coetzee, said: “We are disappointed that, after 6 months of planning, the number of sites that are administering vaccines is low and what is most concerning is the lack of computerised record keeping. How hard is it for the department to organise laptops?

“We hope that the department will be able to rapidly upscale the vaccine administration,” added Coetzee.

In addition, the number of people vaccinated at old-age homes needs to be captured. As a result, the total number of how many people were vaccinated on the first day of phase 2 rollout is unknown.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the department would be launching a public-facing dashboard that would publish the numbers in real time, in due course.

SA’s vaccine strategy has not been without hiccups, from vaccines being delayed to struggling to get access to doses. Public health experts and opposition parties have also slammed the government' “slow and shambolic” start to the rollout.

Five signs that SA’s vaccine strategy is not working:

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Phase 1 of the rollout is not complete

Phase 1 of SA's Covid-19 vaccine implementation study, known as the Sisonke trial, targeting 1.5 million health-care workers ended on Saturday. It has vaccinated 478 733 health workers.

Slow rollout

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The government would have to deliver 190 000 shots a day to meet its target of vaccinating 40 million people by February next year. The highest number of vaccines administered in a day is 19 142.

Of approximately 5 million South Africans over 60, only 1.1 million have registered on the government’s system.

Poor communications

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DA leader John Steenhuisen said no detailed roll-out programme had been published.

“What little information there is was communicated to the public piecemeal, in a last-minute presentation between 8pm and 10pm last night, as if government suddenly woke up yesterday morning and realised there is a vulnerable public out there anxious to know when they can get vaccinated,” said Steenhuisen.

In a survey by the University of Johannesburg, up to a third of South Africans said they would refuse a Covid-19 vaccine if it was offered to them.

Vaccines are limited

South Africa has only Pfizer vaccines available and there have been more delays in getting vaccines, specifically the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which was halted by regulatory processes in the US.

Few vaccination sites

Only 130 of the 3 350 planned vaccination centres will be open from Monday, and those are for the remaining health-care workers. Private sites will begin vaccinations from Monday.

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