With masks gone, here’s how Covid-19 vaccination and testing may now change

Business Insider SA

  • With the last Covid-19 restrictions removed, treatment for the disease will now be integrated into standard health services, health minister Joe Phaahla said on Thursday.
  • That echoes a plan laid out by ministerial advisors earlier this month, on how to deal with coronavirus vaccination and Covid-19 treatment after special pandemic measures are dismantled.
  • Covid-19 vaccines are likely to be offered to pregnant women, those who take kids for routine shots, and in HIV and TB treatment settings.
  • Testing for the novel coronavirus will be scaled way down.
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South Africa has no more special restrictions on everyday life to deal with the novel coronavirus, no mask mandate, no limits on gatherings, and no checks at borders.

Now the special measures put in place within the healthcare sector too are due to be dismantled, bringing changes in everything from where Covid-19 vaccinations happen to how many people are tested for the disease.

Covid-19 vaccinations will be integrated into normal vaccination services, health minister Joe Phaahla said on Thursday.

That is part of the roadmap proposed by the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on Covid-19 earlier this month, covering diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of Covid-19 in a world where it is no longer an overriding priority.

"There is a need to transition from an emergency response mode towards a long-term sustainable strategy of managing Covid-19, which requires deployment of resources over time, and balancing ongoing Covid-19 commitments against the many other priorities that were put on hold to deal with the pandemic," the advisory group told Phaahla.

Special pandemic measures drew staff and resources away from everyday medical needs, the advisors said. And setting up a special vaccine site meant Covid-19 vaccines were not offered in places where the people at highest risk could be reached, such as HIV and TB treatment clinics.

To deal with Covid-19 in the long term, the MAC recommended spending money on genomic surveillance – to detect new variants – rather than testing people without symptoms, a measure intended to reduce transmission by getting infected people to self-isolate.

Testing will be further downgraded if the group's advice is followed on dropping routine testing for those who go into hospital.

"Patients admitted to hospital for reasons other than suspected Covid-19 should only be tested if the symptoms suggestive of Covid-19 are reported," said the MAC.

If a new wave of Covid-19 requires boosters, there should be a plan to quickly offer those shots via schools and "private sector outlets", the group said. But routine vaccination should be done via primary health clinics, and clinics that deal with HIV and TB, as well as antenatal services. 

"This provides unique opportunities to reach high risk populations, including those over 60 years, those with co-morbidities, the immunocompromised including people living with HIV, and pregnant women."

Vaccines should also be offered to the adults who accompany children to clinics, the MAC said, including when those children are brought in for their routine immunisations.

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