The government says no date has yet been confirmed for the delivery of vaccines to combat COVID-19. Earlier this week, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that a vaccine is only expected in the second quarter of 2021.
This is as civil society has demanded that the government come up with an urgent plan to ensure that a COVID-19 vaccine is made available to the most vulnerable groups sooner than it has been announced.
As the country experiences a second wave of surging infections, fuelled by a new variant of the coronavirus, questions are being asked on when healthcare workers and those with underlying medical conditions will be inoculated to ensure their protection.
According to Professor Barry Schoub, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, health workers will be among the first recipients of the COVID-19 vaccine once it’s rolled out in South Africa.
Schoub was part of a panel of experts on Morning Live this Thursday morning – clarifying South Africa’s position and processes in relation to procuring the medication. On Wednesday, the Health Department reported a record number of new daily infections at more than 17 000. 465 people died due to COVID-19 related illness in the same time period.
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As South Africa’s second wave moves towards its peak, there is a concern on when the rollout of vaccines will happen. Deputy Director-General of the Health Department, Dr. Anban Pillay says the date of 21 June as alleged by some is inaccurate.
“We don’t have such a date. Covax has not communicated a date. Covax facility had indicated that we should expect delivery in quarter two. They are trying very hard to get us delivery before that. If they succeed with the manufacturers then we may get delivery earlier and I don’t think it will be on one day because of the quantities that need to be delivered to all of the countries. It’s likely that we will receive vaccines in tranches. Covax has indicated to us that in early January, they will have a firm date on exactly when the delivery will come through.”
The apparent delay in securing the procurement of the vaccine has drawn a lot of criticism from civil society. Opinions via traditional and social media seemingly believe government has not been on the ball. But the Health Department maintains it’s on track.
Senior Researcher at SAMRC Centre for Health Economics and Decision Science, Safuru Abdool Karim disputes that “We are where we are because of poor planning. We aren’t where the US and UK are because we are not a wealthy country.”
“We couldn’t prepay for the vaccines because we didn’t know which was or would be suitable for us,” Pillay explains.
As with the other country’s who’ve begun distributing the vaccine, South African health workers will be first in line along with other vulnerable groups.
“Top tier is healthcare workers. They need to be protected because they are key personnel but because they are vulnerable given their work; also the elderly, the institutionalised. The second level is universal where we try to get everyone vaccinated. It’s too early to tell how effective the immunity will be,” says Schoub.
Schoub says children will most likely be last group to receive the vaccine.
“Children will be at the lowest level of the vaccination chart. Some countries don’t even include children in their programme. Children prove to have lower risks.”
When asked on why we haven’t used the positive multi-lateral relations within the BRICS bloc to secure the virus,
Dr Pillay says that China and Russia have presented their vaccines but trials on efficacy and safety are still undergoing.
But he also warns that the vaccine won’t be the silver bullet that ends pandemic. It will take time before the majority of the country is vaccinated and developed herd immunity.