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Can SA vaccinate 40 million people in 12 months?

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize File picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jan 15, 2021


CAPE TOWN - The biggest vaccination programme in South African history is about to begin in just a few weeks and there’s already doubts over the plan's feasibility.

There have been question marks over the government's grand plan of inoculating 40 million people over a 12-month period.

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What is the plan?

1. Vaccines will not be available for everyone immediately, and a prioritisation system will have to be applied.

2. Phased approach based on the availability of vaccines.

3. Phase one: target a population of 1.25 million: front-line healthcare workers (HCW) first in line.

4. Phase two: target population of 2 500 000: this includes police officers, miners and workers in the security, retail food, funeral, teachers, banking, essential municipal workers and home affairs, border control and port health services.

5. Phase two: target population of 1 100 000: this includes people in care homes, 60 years and older, people older than 18 years with co-morbidities, detention centres, shelters and prisons. In addition, people working in the hospitality and tourism industry, and educational institutions are also at risk.

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6. Phase three: target population of 22 500 000 – it includes the rest of the population.

Covid-19 vaccine rollout programmes in other countries

Some countries are seeing a slow start to their vaccination programmes, while others are having a difficult time meeting their targets.

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Since the vaccine was first rolled out in the United Kingdom (UK) on 8 December, about 2.6 million people across the UK have been vaccinated. But to meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by mid-February, more than 13 million people will need to receive jabs in the next five weeks.

“Government is throwing everything at it to deliver hundreds of thousands of jabs each day,” says UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

With deals to secure up to 58 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, Canada’s immunisation campaign has also gotten off to a slow start.

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Nearly a month into it’s immunisation programme, the country has managed to vaccinate 1 percent of its population. According to CBC's vaccine tracker, 419 209 doses have been administered so far.

How is SA government planning to achieve their goal

Despite details on when Covid-19 vaccines are set to arrive in the country, who the supplier is and how the vaccine will be distributed is still unknown. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is adamant they will be able to achieve the target they set.

Briefing the health portfolio committee last week, Mkhize said he expects 316 000 vaccinations to be conducted in a day, with each vaccinator set to vaccinate 50 people a day and a full-time staff of about 6 300.

However, the South African Medical Association (SAMA) says that government's plans to vaccinate 40 million people in the next 12 months will be ’’extremely difficult’’ to achieve.

“Who is going to vaccinate those people because we don’t have enough healthcare workers.

’’It would be extremely difficult to vaccinate 67% of the population before the end of 2021,” said SAMA chairperson, Dr Angelique Coetzee.

Can government achieve this goal?

Although the task will be difficult, it is not an impossible task, according to Professor Gregory Hussey of the Vaccines for Africa Initiative at the Institute of Infectious Diseases and Molecular Medicine, UCT

During a radio interview on CapeTalk, Hussey said given the country’s past experience with the national immunisation programme, the government is capable of meeting its target.

“We would be able to deliver the vaccine in the context of maintaining the cold chain. Our most recent campaign for the measles outbreak around 2010, we immunised children between the ages of nine months and 15 years over a period of about six to 18 weeks and it is estimated that close to 10 to 12 million doses were delivered in that period. So I don't believe that it is an impossible task,” he said.