At current rates, South Africa’s vaccine rollout will take 20 years to complete: expert

The slow rate of South Africa’s vaccine rollout, and the colder winter months ahead, will likely contribute to a third Covid-19 wave in the country, says Alex van den Heever, chair of Social Security Systems Administration and Management Studies at Wits University.

Speaking in an interview with Cape Talk, Van den Heever said that under the current rollout strategy, in which 6,000 people a day are currently receiving their vaccines, it would take 20 years to vaccinate the whole country.

“We have to get up to over 200,000 a day, and we are quite clearly very far from that,” he said. He added that the country would not come close to vaccinating for herd immunity this year, and that it will have to prepare for a third wave over winter.

Van den Heever said that the relaxation of restrictions to a level 1 lockdown was likely to lead to complacency and a surge in cases.

“The problem now is that behaviour might go back to what it was in October and November, and we might face another surge.”

Speeding up 

Addressing the nation on Sunday evening (28 February), president Cyril Ramaphosa said that the country’s vaccine effort continue to ‘edge forward’.

In the 10 days since the launch of South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination programme got underway, more than 67,000 health workers have been inoculated.

The President said this as a new batch of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in the country on Saturday.

“The start of our vaccination campaign has gone extremely well. It has shown what we can achieve when we work together as government, the scientific community and the private sector,” said the President in his address to the nation.

To date, all provinces have established vaccination sites and have put in place plans for the expansion of the programme as it gains momentum. From next week, the number of sites that will be available for vaccination will be expanded from 17 to 49 sites, Ramaphosa said.

Once the vaccination of healthcare workers has been completed, phase two of the vaccination roll-out will begin in late April or early May.

The second phase will include the elderly, essential workers, persons living or working in institutional settings and those with co-morbidities.

More sites for vaccination in the public and private healthcare sector will also be activated.

“We have recently signed an agreement with Johnson & Johnson to secure 11 million doses. Of these doses, 2.8 million doses will be delivered in the second quarter and the rest spread throughout the year,” said Ramaphosa.

Third wave 

Health group Discovery says the country could record an additional 92,500 Covid-19 deaths by the end of the year if the nation’s vaccine program fails.

In the absence of an effective roll-out of inoculations and restrictions to halt super-spreader events during the Easter holidays in April, 92,500 people could die until December, chief executive officer Adrian Gore said in an online presentation on Thursday.

If the effect of super-spreader events is curbed by significant progress in the vaccine program, that number should halve.

“The vaccination program has to be successful and has to be rapid,” Gore said.

Premier of the Western Cape, Alan Winde has warned against the potential resurgence in Covid-19 cases in South Africa – as part of a third wave of infection.

“We will face another wave of Covid-19 infections in our country,” Winde said in his State of the Province Address on Wednesday (17 February).

“We must make sure we are fully prepared to save lives, to save jobs and to bring hope back in 2021. To achieve this objective, the Western Cape Government has adopted a four-pronged strategy,” he said.

This includes the preparation of a successful rollout of vaccines.

While it is not possible to know precisely when this third wave will start, a surge will likely take place during the South African winter, he said.

Read: South Africa’s 2021 budget is already facing its first major challenge

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At current rates, South Africa’s vaccine rollout will take 20 years to complete: expert