Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, Shabir Mahdi, says the government’s COVID-19 immunisation plan is unattainable. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said the government aims to get a vaccine by next month.

“At this point, we do believe that the issue of rolling out vaccines has to be handled with urgency and that is what has driven us to expedite the availability of vaccines. We believe that vaccines have to be made available to all the South Africans, starting with frontline healthcare workers and the most vulnerable to ensure there is protection for them first as the most vulnerable groups. The vaccines will need to be made available quickly so that most of our citizens are covered by the end of the first year of the rollout- this year,” said Mkhize.

He added that talks are still ongoing with pharmaceutical companies and no deals have been signed yet. “To optimise the availability of stock for ourselves we are negotiating with all the manufacturers and pursuing those who are indicating appetite to make vaccines available sooner. We are in sensitive discussions and at this stage are bound by Non-Disclosure Agreements but we will make announcements as soon as negotiations are concluded and the NDA’s have been lifted.”

Vaccine doses are also expected from the COVAX Facility in the second quarter of this year. Mkhize said the ultimate aim is to vaccinate 67% of the population.

Mahdi says this goal is unrealistic. “The numbers simply don’t add up.  If we want to vaccinate 50 million people by the end of the year, what that would translate to roughly each day from the first of April to 31st of December in the first month, we would need to vaccinate about 150 000 people per day and from the second month onwards we would need to vaccinate 300 000 people per day to be able to vaccinate 67% of the population.  It is further compounded by the fact that the vaccines are not actually authorised for use in children under the age of 16 but the bigger problem is that there isn’t actually any vaccine that is going to come our way 80 million doses that’s going to come our way at this late stage of the game. “

According to the government, the vaccine is going to be rolled out in three phases.

Phase one

  • Front line healthcare workers (HCW). Target population: 1 250 000

 Phase two

    • Essential workers. Target population: 2 500 000
    • Persons in congregate settings. Target population: 1 100 000
    • Persons > 60 years. Target population: 5 000 000
    • Persons >18 years with co-morbidities. Target population: 8 000 000

Phase 3

  • Other persons >18 years. Target population: 22 500 000

Minister Zweli Mkhize explains the vaccine rollout strategy:

Far-reaching repercussions

The Progressive Health Forum of South Africa has on the other hand slammed the government’s plan to procure vaccines in about a month’s time.

The organisation says this is inexcusable and unforgivable and will have far-reaching repercussions.

Progressive Health Forum of South Africa convener, Dr Aslam Dasoo, says the country should have started rolling out the vaccine earlier.

“The Minister said three important things that South Africans must take note of. First, he confirmed and affirmed the government’s position that vaccination is essential, and the only thing that will get us beyond the pandemic. Secondly is that they have started bilateral negotiations with manufacturers, it is important because we are not going to get a vaccine out of COVAX completely.  The fact that we are only starting now is a huge concern with other countries having started since six, eight months ago, as we know we could. So, to only, today as day zero, start the negotiations is a real worry and it blows away any chance of us reaching early immunity.”

Dr Dasoo says other countries are way ahead vaccine rollout: