By Jessie Taylor
The South African public could start receiving their jabs against the Coronavirus earlier than they may have thought. This was announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa’s Cabinet following a virtual cabinet meeting on Wednesday 24 March, in which deadlines for South Africa’s three-phased vaccination roll-out plan were released. The plan aims to begin rolling out vaccines to essential workers and those older than 60, as South Africa faces down the potential of a third wave this winter.
Prioritising the healthcare system
The national Department of Health intends to start the second phase of the vaccination, which will focus on vulnerable groups in society, from 18 May. The vaccination rollout has been structured into three phases. The first phase, which is currently underway, aims to vaccinate healthcare workers. This phase, which targets over 1,5 million (608 295 registered) healthcare workers across the country, started on 17 February and is scheduled to run for three months, until 17 May.
“The Department of Health is on track to vaccinate all healthcare workers by the end of Phase 1”, Cabinet said in a meeting.
Phase 1 was initially delayed after the first batch of vaccines received by the South African government, the Oxford-AstraZeneca CoviShield, was found to be less effective against a predominant Covid-19 variant found in the country. The expedite the rollout of the vaccine doses, an open-label research programme, called Sisonke, was launched to make the Johnson & Johnson vaccine immediately available to healthcare workers.
Sisonke allows the vaccine to be available under research conditions while the vaccine is undergoing the licensing process in South Africa. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has approved the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the Sisonke Programme while it processes the full licensing. It is expected that vaccination registrations with SAHPRA will be completed in this month.
At the moment, under the Sisonke programme, South Africa receives around 80 000 doses every two weeks. An additional shipment of around 200 000 doses arrived on April 10th. The vaccination roll-out programme is currently running at 54 vaccine sites across the country, and over 200 000 healthcare workers have already received doses of the vaccine. The programme is currently delivering between 5000 and 10 000 doses a day to healthcare workers, which authorities say is on track with their planned targets.
Targeting essential services
However, the rate of vaccination is expected to increase during the second phase of the rollout plan and will likely increase to between 120 000 and 150 000 doses delivered daily. The second phase will be implemented over six months, between 18 May and 17 November. During this period, the health department aims to vaccinate over 13 million South Africans that fall into vulnerable groups or are classified as essential workers.
This includes essential workers and those who work in sectors that are critical for economic recovery. These sectors include mining, hospitality, the taxi industry, retail (including the informal sector such as spaza shops) and media. These sectors will be refined in consultation with the National Economic Development and Labour Council (Nedlac).
During the second phase of vaccinations, the health department will increase the number of vaccination sites to 2085. Private sector sites will be included, to improve the efficiency and speed of the vaccination roll-out programme. The second phase of the rollout is also expected to include those with comorbidities or those older than 60, as well as those living in congregate settings such as care facilities and correctional centres.
“Cabinet would like to reassure South Africans of the capacity of the Department of Health, in partnership with the private sector, to undertake a mass vaccine roll-out when Phase 2 gets underway,” the Cabinet said in a statement.
The first two phases of the rollout plan will focus on reducing pressure on the healthcare systems, preventing deaths and ensuring the economy can recover from the pandemic. Once this is in place, the remaining population will become the focus of the programme, to ensure 67% are vaccinated. This percentage is the number health experts agree will ensure population or herd immunity against Covid-19.
The South African government had initially hoped to have the vaccinations completed by the end of the year, but this deadline has been moved out to early 2022. Phase 3 of the vaccination rollout plan will also run over three months and will aim to vaccinate those not included in the first two phases – an estimated 22 million people. This phase will run from November to February next year.
How to apply for a vaccine:
- To receive their vaccines, candidates should register on the Electronic Vaccine Data System (EVDS). This digital platform is currently open to healthcare workers only but will be rolled out country-wide to facilitate the administration of vaccines.
- The EVDS assists the health department in building a patient database and managing the distribution of the vaccine doses.
- The system collects general personal details and contact information, which will allow the health department to prioritise patients and send them notifications via SMS.
- The EVDS can be accessed at http://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za/ but is currently only open for the registration of healthcare workers.
*For more updates on the public sector and healthcare updates, check out the latest edition of the Public Sector Leaders publication here.