While South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine drive started poorly, it quickly caught up to the best in the world.
Speaking to the Sunday Times, Business for South Africa chair Martin Kingston said many things had to come together for the vaccine rollout to ramp up the way it did.
“My sense is that over the last several weeks, we’ve seen it come together very effectively,” he said.
As vaccinations in South Africa have ramped up, Kingston said that vaccination rates per capita are now comparable with the best in the world.
Kingston predicted that the country could be administering 420,000 jabs a day by mid-September.
However, he said that reaching this target will require an uninterrupted supply of vaccines and simplified registration at vaccination sites.
According to Kingston, the increase in vaccination rates is largely due to the public and private sectors pooling their resources.
He said that there is now clear acknowledgement that the rollout will only be effective if South Africa harnesses all its resources in a more coordinated way.
Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane announced on Friday that South Africa is administering over 250,000 vaccine doses per day during the week.
Kubayi-Ngubane also said that government aims to surpass President Cyril Ramaphosa’s target of 300,000 vaccines per day and inoculate at least 400,000 people per day.
Professor Helen Rees, executive director of the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, said that many countries experienced problems with the start of their vaccine rollouts.
“If you compare SA’s start-up to other countries, it hasn’t been too bad,” she said.
“The question will be, can our supply keep up?”
Rees said the most important thing we can do in South Africa is ensuring as many people get vaccinated as quickly as possible.
She said that the impact of widespread vaccination coverage is evident in countries like the United Kingdom.
Even as the UK experiences its own third wave of coronavirus infections driven by the highly infectious Delta variant, its number of hospitalisations and deaths have decreased substantially compared to other waves.
However, professor Francois Venter, Ezintsha director at Wits health sciences, told the Sunday Times that it’s important not to lose sight of how many people over 60 are being vaccinated.
“There is a lot to be celebrated in our vaccine rollout. But we need to ask how many of those being vaccinated are over 60,” Venter stated.
He said that the number of people over 60 getting vaccinated remains an important measure as they are at greater risk than younger people.
“Vaccinating one 60-year-old is more important than vaccinating two 35-year-olds,” said Venter.
Venter is not convinced that South Africa can vaccinate 35 million people by the end of the year.
Even if the country could hit the target, he said it wouldn’t be that great if most vaccines were administered to people younger than 50.
The head of the Centre for Social Science Research, Jeremy Seekings, and economics professor Nicoli Nattrass — both at the University of Cape Town — said they are worried about South Africa’s slow usage of its Johnson & Johnson vaccines.
Seekings and Nattrass said the vaccines have an expiry date, and the government said it hasn’t even used half of its stores after more than a month.
They said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should have been used in rural areas.
“We don’t understand why it has been used for special occupational groups, i.e. public sector workers,” stated Seekings and Nattrass.
They also warned that at the pace of the vaccination rollout last week, the government will only achieve its goal of vaccinating the adult population of South Africa in early 2023 — not in early 2022 as originally promised.