One of South Africa’s leading vaccinologists has warned that if the government continues to delay its vaccination programme, the country is likely to experience a third wave of Covid-19 infections soon.
“I’ve estimated that it will probably be around May [and] June of this year that we will start seeing another increase in terms of transmission across the country,” Professor Shabir Madhi told The Citizen on Monday, warning that the delay to vaccinate citizens could potentially affect government’s plans to have a substantial percentage of the population vaccinated by the end of this year.
“South Africa has been delayed in terms of both the procurement of vaccines as well as developing the plan for the deployment of vaccines which are equally important. Much of that activity seems to have started since the beginning of the year and very little planning has taken place before that.”
Madhi, who used to be part of the Department of Health’s Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee (MAC), warned that there was no time to delay in the procurement and rollout of vaccines amid the second wave of Covid-19 infections, which was putting a major strain on the country’s healthcare system.
“This means, unfortunately, we will go into another period where there is going to be a large number of people that die from Covid and where there is a significant pressure on our healthcare facilities,” he said.
Madhi said government’s target to inoculate 1.25 million healthcare workers in the first phase of its vaccine programme starting in February was achievable. However, once more groups were added this could prove challenging in order to achieve population immunity.
“I think for the first phase that is targeting health workers, that should be achievable but even then there is work that needs to be done in terms of engaging with healthcare workers for them to recognise the importance of vaccines,” Madhi said.
He added: “But the deployment of vaccines in phase two requires millions of people in the high-risk groups. It is not something that is easily achievable. It’s going to require huge amounts of partnerships between the public and public sector, everything from deployment as well as the logistics to make it a reality.
“So, I think we are still in a very difficult space. I don’t think we have done enough in terms of planning because we started too late.”
Madhi said even if government received the 1.5 million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII), this would affect its target of population immunity.
Last week, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) had granted approval to the SII to supply Covid-19 vaccine in the country.
Mkhize assured South Africans that “all is on track” and that government was working closely with all relevant stakeholders to ensure a smooth implementation of the vaccine roll-out programme.
“It’s unlikely that even the health workers are going to be protected in any meaningful way during the course of this resurgence that we are currently experiencing. By the time also that the healthcare workers do get vaccinated, in all likelihood this resurgence would have subsided in most parts of the country,” Madhi said.
“The vaccination of healthcare workers now is something that will hopefully offer them some protection when another resurgence occurs. So, we are very likely to experience another resurgence sometime soon.”