Health Department unclear on when third wave will hit SA, warns it remains a big risk
Durban - Amid growing fears of a third wave of Covid-19 infections amongst South Africans, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Friday said that his department did not know when the third wave could hit the country, but said maintained it remained a big risk.
The Department of Health (DoH) also announced that South Africans would be able to register to be vaccinated against the pandemic from next Friday through the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS).
The announcement was made during a briefing by the department to unions, civil society and the media to outline the country’s vaccination roll-out programme.
Mkhize said that there was no way of telling whether the next wave would be orchestrated by the 501Y.V2 or whether there will be a new variant.
“It’s important for us to always be aware that it remains that we will have, but we don’t have concrete information as to when that is likely to happen and we have no reason to think that it will not happen in South Africa,” Mkhize said.
He said that it was important for South Africans to stick to the basic containment measures such as the use of masks, social distancing, sanitisers, hand washing, avoiding overcrowded and poorly ventilated spaces as the country heads into the winter season.
“What the scientists have indicated in the past is that mutations function off a rapid transmission, so the faster infection is transmitted the quicker it creates mutation of those variants. So we won’t be able to tell what the next situation will be like.
“However, we have been pretty comfortable with the fact that the last wave, up to February, almost 99% of all the infections were due to the 501Y.V2 and on that basis our vaccines should be fairly adequate in dealing with it,” Mkhize.
The number of healthcare workers vaccinated with the Johnson and Johnson jab under the Sisonke Protocol stood at 283 629, while the department aims to vaccinate about 500 000 healthcare workers by May 17.
The department added the remaining 700 000 healthcare workers would be vaccinated in conjunction with the phase 2 of the vaccinations, albeit in a separate process.
When the second phase of vaccination begins, 17 May 17, it will be aimed at workers over 40 years of age, those above 60 and people living in congregate settings such as old age homes and prisons.
The third phase is scheduled to begin on October 17 and will be targeting citizens under the age of 40.
In a presentation by Dr Lesley Bamford, chief director in the Department of Health, it was revealed that the Pfizer vaccine, which is a double jab vaccine, would be allocated to metros as it was easier to access the population there and the large pack size required -20°C storage temperature and could also be used in mass vaccination sites.
Bamford said that the J&J vaccine, which is only a single jab vaccine, would predominantly be used in rural districts.
She said that there was no assurance that the two vaccines would provide adequate protection against future variants of the virus.
“What we do have assurance around is that the two vaccines that we will be using, the Pfizer vaccine and the Johnson and Johnson, do provide protection against the dominant variant that is currently prevalent in South Africa,” Bamford.
However, Bamford said that there were systems in place to monitor the development of new variants and to test them against the vaccines.
Bamford said that although the EVDS is convenient, online through a computer or a cellphone, they understood that many people would require assisted registration.
“The more people who can register this way, it will assist with making the process more efficient for both the vaccinee and also for the vaccination services.
“However, obviously many South Africans do not have access to this so self or assisted registration will also be available, linked to each vaccination site so that people can go to a site and be assisted to register,” Bamford said.