Warning over vaccine delays and third COVID-19 wave in South Africa

Experts have warned that the delays suffered by South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination programme could result in a third wave hitting the country, the Sunday Times reports.

Vaccinologist professor Shabir Madhi told the publication that the government has dropped the ball on the vaccine acquisition process.

“It seems to me that the government only started planning in early January after a media backlash,” said Madhi.

“Even after this resurgence dies down we’ll get another one [wave], and vaccine deployment will be too late for high-risk groups then.”

Madhi and other experts were kicked out of the country’s COVID-19 ministerial advisory committee (MAC) in September.

Some from this group have since complained that it is not clear when vaccines will arrive and how the government will distribute them.

Professor Ian Sanne, who is still on the MAC, said the biggest issue regarding vaccines is that there are no clear plans for their distribution.

“We have not gone the next step of elucidating exactly where the people are who would benefit from the first 1.5-million doses … we should be working on those logistics,” said Sanne.

Vaccines deals nearly done

The Health Department had previously said it expects to complete deals to acquire millions of coronavirus vaccines within about a month.

This followed a letter to Corruption Watch where National Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane confirmed that government had previously been placing its hopes into the Covax programme.

Government has since confirmed that it has struck a deal for 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, while president Cyril Ramaphosa has confirmed that 20 million more doses have been secured for 2021 so far.

These 20 million doses include the allocation from Covax, as well as vaccine doses from Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and possibly Moderna, but exclude the aforementioned doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize recently said that everything is on track for vaccine doses that are expected to be received in the first quarter of the year.

Lockdown level 3

While the country waits for vaccines to arrive, South African citizens continue to abide by the adjusted level 3 lockdown.

This lockdown includes a blanket ban on alcohol sales, while masks are compulsory when in any public area.

Ramaphosa first returned the country to this adjusted level 3 lockdown on 29 December, when he noted the threat posed by the second wave that was hitting South Africa.

“Unless we act now and unless we act decisively, the number of new infections will far exceed what we experienced in the first wave, and thousands more people will lose their lives,” said Ramaphosa.

He has since held another announcement to confirm that the country would remain at an adjusted level 3 lockdown.

Now read: South Africa passes 40,000 COVID-19 deaths

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Warning over vaccine delays and third COVID-19 wave in South Africa