NATIONAL NEWS - South Africa has the highest number of Covid-19 cases on the African continent. It has more than 50 000 reported deaths. This may be an underestimate, looking at excess death statistics.
The economic cost of the pandemic is evident on the streets and healthcare facilities have been under considerable strain during the waves of the pandemic.
It was with much relief, elation and a renewed sense of hope that many healthcare workers enrolled in the Johnson and Johnson vaccination trial in mid-February and received their much-anticipated vaccination.
But the relief and elation have given way to frustration and disillusionment. The country’s rollout is proceeding at a pace much slower than expected.
To date just over 293 000, South Africans have had received their jab, which represents only a fraction of the 1.25 million healthcare workers who are first in line. This adds up to about 0.5% of the general population. The initial target of having 67% of the country’s citizens vaccinated by the end of 2021 is now unlikely to be achieved.
The new rollout plan promises to vaccinate 1.5 million by the end of May 2021. Phase 2 is set to happen between May and October 2021 with the aim of an additional 13 million vaccinated in that time frame.
Several factors have contributed to South Africa’s halting start. These include global health inequality, South Africa’s delay in joining the global race for procurement, delays in the rollout plan as well as uncertainty around efficacy and side effects of vaccines that were procured.
At the current vaccination pace, it will take over a decade for South Africa to reach herd immunity, with many lives lost along the way.
The biggest challenge has been access. Like other developing countries, South Africa has really struggled to get doses.
The WHO director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, put it succinctly when he said:
Even as they speak the language of equitable access, some countries and companies continue to prioritise bilateral deals, … driving up prices and attempting to jump to the front of the queue. This is wrong.
Ghebreyesus was referring to the fact that developing country governments have procured and hoarded vaccines for their own populations. Even before many of the Covid-19 vaccines had received final approval, some countries had procured several million doses of those that held promise.
An additional factor was South Africa’s slow start. The government has been criticised for not actively engaging in vaccine procurement through other avenues at an earlier stage. By mid-January 2021 the country’s participation in the COVAX vaccine scheme only secured enough doses for around 10% of the population.