Covid-19 vaccine South Africa
(Getty Images)
  • To reach heard immunity against Covid-19, South Africa plans to have 67% of the adult population – representing some 40 million people – vaccinated.
  • At the current vaccination rate, reaching this goal by the end of 2021 will require at least 150,000 doses to be administered daily.
  • Currently, just under 6,000 doses are being administered daily and at that continued rate, herd immunity would only be reached in 18 years, six months, and eight days.
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South Arica hopes to vaccinate 67% of the adult population against Covid-19 before the end of 2021. A new online calculator, developed by local data journalists, is being used to plot a realistic timeline of the country’s vaccination programme based upon the number of jabs administered daily.

South Africa’s first Covid-19 vaccine doses were administered to healthcare workers on 17 February 2021, signalling the start of an ambitious immunisation drive to reach heard immunity before the end of the year. To date, almost 150,000 doses have been administered to frontline healthcare workers who are prioritised in the first phase of government’s vaccine strategy.

But the country’s vaccination programme has been complicated by earlier procurement issues. Use of the AstraZeneca vaccine, obtained via the Serum Institute of India, was swiftly abandoned after further tests concluded that its efficacy was greatly diminished in preventing moderate illness in persons infected with the new 501Y.V2 variant of the coronavirus.

South Africa pivoted to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which, in testing, has maintained a suitable efficacy in combatting the new Covid-19 variant driving infections in the country. Up to 500,000 doses are expected to arrive in the country by April, but the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) has not yet approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for general use.

But with the clock ticking and international immunisation efforts gathering momentum, government has been able to secure half a million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for “real life” research purposes. The Sisonke Programme, which is Phase 3b clinical trial overseen by the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), provides a way to gather practical information about the vaccine while, at the same time, protecting healthcare workers against Covid-19.

In the meantime, Sahpra is working to certify that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine safe and effective for use in South Africa. Once this has been confirmed, a further nine million doses – registered outside of the Sisonke Programme, for general use – can be delivered, distributed, and administered. A further 12 million vaccines have been procured from the global COVAX facility and 20 million from Pfizer, which recently received Sahpra approval for emergency use.

Phase two of the vaccine rollout will focus on essential workers, people over the age of 60 and people with comorbidities. Phase three will include the general adult population of people over the age of 18, representing roughly 22.5 million people. In line with government’s plans, approximately 40 million people should be vaccinated before the end of 2021.

A team of local researchers and journalists, called the Media Hack Collective, have developed an online calculator which analyses the due date for her immunity based upon the average rate of daily vaccinations. Media Hack Collective has previously developed an accurate coronavirus dashboard which tracks active cases, deaths, regional trends, tests, and positivity rates.

The latest online tool tracks the number of daily vaccinations and uses that data to determine how long will it take to vaccinate 67% of South Africans. At the current rate, of 5,910 vaccinations a day, it will take 18 years, six months and eight days to achieve the herd immunity target.

But the rate of daily vaccinations is expected to increase dramatically in phases two and three of the rollout. By then, Sahpra is expected to have approved the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for general use and other vaccines will become available. Government is also planning to intensify its partnership with the private sector to make vaccines more accessible to the general public.

To reach the target of 67% by the end of 2021, at least 150,000 doses will need to be administered on a daily basis for the next nine months.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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