Phase 2 of South Africa’s vaccine rollout already hitting roadblocks: report

South Africa’s vaccine rollout programme is struggling to get off the ground, despite plans for its start on Monday, 17 May.

According to the City Press, the programme has experienced low registration rates in the target group – those aged 60 and over, or with comorbidities – while those who have registered have not yet received any information on what to do.

The second phase of the rollout is scheduled to start on Monday, with the government targetting approximately 16.6 million vaccinations over six months, or 100,000 vaccinations each day.

However, the first phase of the rollout is still not complete. The Sisonke academic study has so far vaccinated close to its 500,000 target, but the remainder of healthcare workers still need to be given the jab – around 500,000 people, to meet government’s initial target of one million.

The recently-published National Income Dynamics Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (NIDS-CRAM) estimated that the government will have to deliver 190,000 shots each day to meet its target of vaccinating 40 million people by February 2022.

Speaking to ENCA, health minister Zweli Mkhize called for South Africans to patient with the process, saying that phase 2 of the rollout will commence as planned, and those registered to receive the vaccine will be notified over time.

But the City Press flagged a number of issues that are causing concern among experts:

  • By Mkhize’s own admission, no individuals registered on the system had been sent a notification for an appointment to get vaccinated, with provincial health departments putting the focus on old-age homes and care centres initially;
  • Of approximately 5 million South Africans over 60, only 1.1 million have actually registered on government’s system;
  • Only 130 of the 3,350 planned vaccination centres will be open from Monday – and that is for the remaining healthcare workers;
  • There have been more delays in getting vaccines, specifically the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which was halted by regulatory processes in the US. South Africa only has Pfizer vaccines available currently;
  • Vaccines are still limited, and bottle-necked by periodic delivery times;
  • South Africa’s Covid-19 infections are increasing, with some areas already classified as being in a third wave.

According to the Democratic Alliance, the second phase of the vaccination drive is off to a particularly poor start in Gauteng – which is expected to be hardest-hit by the next wave.

The party said that, counter to expectations, few people in the 60-plus age range in Gauteng will receive the vaccine this week as there are only 24 public health sites to be set up for the Pfizer dose.

This was disclosed last week at a meeting of the Gauteng Legislature Health Committee. According to the department, the Pfizer doses will initially go to health workers and to institutions like old age homes.

“This is a far cry from the 285 vaccination centres that were promised at the Gauteng Command Council briefing on 7 May. There were supposed to be 187 public sites and 98 private sites. In February this year the Command Council claimed that there would be 345 vaccination sites in total – 191 public and 154 private,” the party said.

The DA said it visited 12 designated vaccine sites in Ekurhuleni, and found that only one – the Alberton Civic Hall – was ready to start this week. At least four sites were not even aware that they were required to vaccinate, it said.

Private sites will apparently only begin vaccinations from 24 May, the DA said.

Reports from various provinces all point to a similarly slow start to phase 2, with various provincial health departments detailing what little plans they have to the Daily Maverick.

The overall picture is that old-age homes are being targeted first, with individual shots coming later. Registrations are slow, and vaccinations centres are still being prepared.

There has been a notable increase in the number of daily infections across South Africa, though the National Institute of Communicable Diseases is loath to call it a third wave, as it does not yet match the technical definition.

As of Saturday, 2,750 new cases were recorded, taking South Africa’s running total to 1,611,143 infections detected. There have been 1,523,243 recoveries and 55,183 deaths, leaving the country with 32,717 active cases – around 10,000 more than a week ago.

7.5% of all tests are coming out positive, compared to 3.7% in April and 4.3% in March.

Read: You can now register for a Covid-19 vaccine through WhatsApp in South Africa – what you should know

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Phase 2 of South Africa’s vaccine rollout already hitting roadblocks: report