Booster shots now available but priority is to get all vaccinated against Covid-19
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Pretoria - While the government has opened Covid-19 booster shots, its priority remains to vaccinate people who are still unjabbed.
This was said by Dr Lesley Bamford, the Department of Health's chief director of child health programme and Covid-19 team leader, during a recent television interview.
Bamford also emphasised that the country was not mixing and matching vaccines for those eligible for booster shots.
"We are offering boosters, but our number one priority is those people who are unvaccinated, and therefore, not protected against severe diseases associated with Covid-19," she said.
Those who received the Pfizer vaccine are eligible to receive a booster six months after their second dose.
However, Bamford said there was a relatively small number of Pfizer people, "but in coming weeks and months, more people will become eligible".
Anyone who has vaccinated with Johnson & Johnson two months ago is now eligible to receive a booster dose.
With just over 28.1 million jabs having been administered in the country so far, Bamford lamented the fact that the vaccination process slowed down some months ago.
She said the slow vaccination process affected the government's goal of inoculating at least 67% of the population by the end of 2021 to achieve herd immunity.
Bamford said: "Our biggest challenge in terms of the vaccination programme is with people coming forward and be willing and presenting themselves to be vaccinated, and certainly in the past few months, we have seen a slowdown in uptake of vaccines, and that has contributed significantly to our failures to have vaccinated as many people as we would have liked to."
She also warned that the country would "inevitably experience further waves".
"We will have to wait and see when those waves arrive and how serious the waves are. During the fourth wave, we experienced a very rapid increase in terms of the number of cases, but with fewer hospitalisation and death than some of the previous waves."
Like many other experts, Bamford believes that the relaxation of restrictions must be done in a responsible manner.
"We have to open up the economy, open up society, but we do need to do it in a responsible way,"she said.
She called on people to follow non-pharmaceutical interventions such as keeping away from private places, being in well-ventilated places and washing hands as measures to ward off the spread of infections.
Last week, Dr Adrian Puren, executive director at the National Institute of Communicable Disease, also signalled that the country would certainly see increases in infections after the fourth wave on December 23, but won't be "dramatic increases".
Puren also expressed the sentiment that the imposition of lockdowns was not necessarily effective.
"Other institutions inside and outside of South Africa stating that lockdowns are not effective," he said.
He stated that the approach to managing the pandemic should focus on practising "the wearing of masks and ensuring that people are vaccinated".
As schools will be reopening soon, Puren said it was important for parents and schools to adhere to non-pharmaceutical interventions.
On the other hand, the Universities of South Africa's Linda Meyer defended the stance by many institutions to put vaccination as a condition for accepting students, saying "universities have a legal right that whoever accesses their sites is vaccinated".
There are about 1.1 million people registered to study at the SA universities this year.
Meanwhile, the South Africa Medical Association has called for the government to allow general practitioners to administer Covid-19 vaccines as a way to ramp up mass vaccination in the country.
Association spokesperson Dr Angelique Coetzee said: "It is extremely important (GPs to administer vaccines) because if we look at the data out there regarding the vaccine hesitancy, the data is clear that patients trust their GPs much more than any of the politicians or lot of the so-called experts out there."