Covid-19 vaccine South Africa
(Photo by Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
  • South Africa’s vaccine rollout is gathering momentum but could be doing a lot better, according to the latest Social Listening Report.
  • The weekly report, compiled by working groups within the department of health and NGOs, studies trends around the Covid-19 vaccine rollout.
  • In addition to being critical of the Electronic Vaccination Data System’s technical issues, the report identifies poverty as the primary barrier to vaccination.
  • It recommends subsidising taxis to transport senior citizens to vaccination sites, and offering free Panados to counter possible side effects of the jab.
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South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout is gathering momentum but is still far behind target. In a bid to increase daily vaccination rates, the department of health is considering transport subsidies, expanding sites to welfare collection points, and offering free Panados to people who have received their jabs.

A total of 1,343,433 South Africans – representing 2.3% of the total population – have received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine since the rollout began in mid-February. While this represents one of the slowest rollouts in the world, the pace at which doses are being administered in Phase 2 of the programme – which priorities senior citizens over the age of 60 – is increasing.

South Africa had initially hoped to achieve herd immunity – by vaccinating some 40 million people representing 67% of the population – by the end of 2021. Procurement delays and supply constraints have pushed this target out to the first quarter of 2022.

To achieve this, at least 120,000 doses need to be administered daily, if using the single-shot Johnson & Johnson jab. The current daily average, calculated since the rollout began, is less than 13,000. In the first week of June, this rate increased almost five-fold.

But problems, both in and out of government’s control, continue to trouble South Africa’s vaccine programme. While the prolonged suspension of the J&J jabs – as a result of cross-contamination under investigation by the US’ drug regulator – has reinforced supply issues, the health department’s communication has been left wanting.

Rumours and misinformation regarding Covid-19 jabs, coupled with the Electronic Vaccination Data System’s (EVDS) technical issues, are just some of the concerns raised in the latest Social Listening Report published by the department of health on Monday.

Covid-19 vaccine South Africa
Covid-19 vaccine Social Listening Report
Covid-19 vaccine South Africa
Covid-19 vaccine Social Listening Report

Compiled by the department’s Risk Communications, Community Engagement Working Group and several NGOs in the health sector, the Covid-19 report analyses keys trends associated with the rollout on a weekly basis. The latest report notes that senior citizens are generally positive about the vaccination process and that demand currently exceeds supply.

Concerns around the vaccines’ safety, limited access to vaccination sites, the inconsistent approach to walk-ins and users reporting poor experiences when using the EVDS are all problems cited within the report.

“Logistical and financial barriers impair access to vaccination, leading to frustration among those feeling excluded,” says the report in reference to poverty, rather than hesitancy, as a barrier to vaccination.

“This is prevalent among elderly people living in poverty, where limiting factors include transport costs, access to a smart phone [to use the EVDS] and data charges.”

The report lists 14 recommended actions to the department of health. Most of these recommendations concern better communication from the department and local authorities to address EVDS registration issues, rollout details and combat misinformation. Other recommendations concern improving access to vaccines and sites and include:

  • Sending mobile vaccination setups to the elderly, and carrying out vaccinations at local faith-based and community gatherings.
  • Exploring transport subsidies for the elderly to vaccine sites with taxi associations.
  • Setting up vaccination sites at SA Social Security Agency (Sassa) payout points in July.
  • Developing and distributing a glossary of Covid-19 terms in all 11 official languages.
  • Offering free Panado (paracetamol) after vaccination. “It’s a small price that will greatly reduce frustration,” says the report.

The health department already recommends using paracetamol to combat common vaccine side effects, which include redness and tenderness at the injection site, headache, chills, joint pain, and fever.

See also | No more walk-in vaccines at private sites if you don’t have medical aid – and maybe if you’re 80

The report also takes direct aim at anti-vaxxers, specifically South African doctors who publicly endorse conspiracy theories.

Several “new” conspiracy theories have emerged and are being promoted by local doctors and social media influencers, according to the Social Listening Report. This, in turn, has the potential strengthen vaccine hesitancy.

It recommends reporting “anti-vaxx doctors” to the Health Professions Council of South Africa for possible sanctions.  

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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