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Hundreds of private Covid-19 vaccine sites are standing ready – but idle

Business Insider SA
News analysis
DURBAN, SOUTH AFRICA - FEBRUARY 18: X during the o
(Gallo Images/Darren Stewart)
  • South Africa vaccinated 5,037 people on Sunday, against a target of well over 100,000 per day.
  • According to an official list, SA has fewer than 200 vaccine delivery sites active, against a target of more than 3,000.
  • Hundreds of private providers are standing by with sites they say have everything except the two critical elements only the government can deliver: vaccine doses, and recipients to get them.
  • Nobody seems to know when they may be turned on.
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In order to reach its immunity target, South Africa has to vaccinate well over 100,000 people per day, seven days a week. On Sunday, according to official numbers release by the department of health, total first doses of Pfizer delivered numbered 5,037.

That has private healthcare providers tearing their hair out.

Independent pharmacies with clinics attached has told Business Insider South Africa of their frustration at not being able to deliver the Covid-19 vaccines to their communities because they are missing the two elements that only the government may provide: vaccine doses, and approved recipients for those doses.

Everything else is ready, they say, down to the empty fridges and syringes lined up. Some are even paying for additional security guards, to help manage anticipated queues and protect the elderly people they expect to arrive.

But they have been unable to get any indication from the government on when their sites may be activated on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), government's central database through which vaccine delivery must be arranged.

It is not just independent providers. One major chain alone has hundreds of sites that could be offering vaccines across the country, a strange discrepancy in government numbers show.

Last week the Clicks group announced it had "started vaccinating citizens over the age of 60 years at 51 Clicks Pharmacies". As of Monday, the official government list of vaccine sites shows only 18 active Clicks branches. Clicks would not provide its full list of sites to Business Insider SA, saying it was changing constantly, and referred questions to the department of health. The department of health referred questions to Clicks.

But it was not targeting just 51 sites, Clicks said – it had applied for permits for 567 sites, and said it was working with the health department to activate those.

The official list of vaccine sites currently lists 177 places where vaccines are being administered, which means that activating the Clicks pharmacies alone would increase the locations by a factor of three.

The official target is to have 3,300 sites active at some undetermined time in the not-too-distant future.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has expressed worry about the availability of vaccine doses, but there were at least 800,000 doses of Pfizer's Covid-19 shot available in South Africa as of Monday morning. Meanwhile, the release of a large number of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses is thought to be imminent.

Nor is there any sign of an imminent shortage of willing recipients. Business groups have been urged to push for more over-60s to register on the EVDS, to reach an ultimate target of five million. But less than 15% of those over 60 already registered have received their first doses so far, while local practitioners cite slow rollout as a big part of a chicken-and-egg problem, with seniors hard to convince they should get into a queue they don't see moving.

Potential recipients have also described being put off by their inability to select a preferred vaccination site, for fear of exposure to infection at a crowded public healthcare facility, after more than a year of carefully shielding against infection.

Guaranteeing that they could be injected by a known and trusted local pharmacy, or GP practice, would see a rapid increase in registrations, those providers argue.

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