Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture: Doctor Ngcobo/African News Agency(ANA)

SA’s vaccine targets and the ‘consistent series of missteps’

By Kelly Jane Turner Time of article published May 18, 2021

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Cape Town - The National Department of Health has set itself an ambitious target to vaccinate five million people over the age of 60 by the end of June.

However, some are calling into question how the government will be able to reach the targets in light of the slow progress being made.

In order to achieve the five million mark, more than 833 000 people need to be vaccinated a week over the next six weeks.

Additionally, by the end of this week, the government aims to vaccinate a further 700 000 health-care workers.

However, in the space of 3 months, the Sisonke implementation study vaccinated fewer than 500 000 health-care workers.

University of the Witwatersrand infectious diseases specialist Professor Francois Venter said the vaccination plan was an enormous task that worried him because delivery had not been government’s strong point.

“South Africans are deeply worried and scared, rather than hopeful. The vaccine response so far has been a consistent series of missteps, with total lack of transparency.

“We are being drip-fed vaccines by manufacturers, we are way behind other African countries and so far, we just have reassurances and photo ops of politicians being vaccinated,” he said.

Phase two of the national vaccine rollout was launched on Monday with Pfizer vaccines at 87 sites across the country.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the first week of the rollout might start “fairly slowly” but would speed up towards the end of month.

“This is because we are starting off with a new vaccine we have never used before. We have learnt from Sisonke that the first few days start slowly as vaccinators get used to the new vaccine. Then, once operators are comfortable, the turnover ramps up significantly. This is what we have planned around to allow us a few days to iron out any teething problems,” he said.

In order to be vaccinated under phase two of the rollout, people need to register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS). Only 1.2 million seniors and 914 000 health-care workers have registered, which means only 40% of the targeted population are able to receive a vaccine.

During a press conference on Monday, Western Cape head of health Dr Keith Cloete, encouraged people to register as only a third of the over-60s population in the province had registered for the vaccine.

Part of the reason why the vaccine rollout has been slow is due to the country purchasing the AstraZeneca vaccines and then selling them to other African countries over fears that they would be less effective.

In April, the Sisonke Johnson and Johnson vaccine rollout was temporarily suspended after six women in the US developed a rare blood-clotting disorder after getting the vaccine.

Last week in his newsletter, President Cyril Ramaphosa slammed the shortfall of vaccines in the country.

“A situation in which the populations of advanced, rich countries are safely inoculated while millions in poorer countries die in the queue would be tantamount to vaccine apartheid," he said.

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