Covid-19 rollout in South Africa
(Photo by Brenton Geach/Gallo Images via Getty Images)
  • South Africa's Covid-19 vaccine rollout has been constrained by procurement delays, regulatory issues, and slow weekends.
  • But the pace has improved dramatically since the start of July, with more than half of all doses in the rollout's entirety having been administered in the last four weeks alone.
  • This is thanks to government's updated policy which requires sites to accept walk-ins, whether they have medical insurance or not.
  • It's also due to the rollout being opened to younger age groups ahead of schedule.
  • For more stories go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za.

South Africa's Covid-19 vaccine rollout is gaining momentum as it opens to younger age groups. A third of the country's total jabs have been administered in the past two weeks alone.

South Africa's vaccination rollout got off to a shaky start due to procurement issues, with criticism levelled at government for failing to negotiate swift supply agreements with pharmaceutical companies.

And just when the rollout seemed primed to begin in February – prioritising healthcare workers in line with government's risk-evaluated approach – it hit a serious snag. Studies showed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, of which South Africa had already ordered 1.5 million doses from the Serum Institute of India, had a hugely decreased efficacy against the 501Y.V2 variant.

With the 501Y.V2 – now known as Beta – variant dominating the pandemic in South Africa, AstraZeneca was scrapped and replaced with a batch of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) doses used to vaccinate healthcare workers under the Sisonke Programme.  

South Africa’s Covid-19 rollout has faced several hurdles

Then the United States' (US) Food and Drug Administration (FDA) flagged concerns around rare blood clots forming in people who'd received the J&J jab. South Africa followed suit, and the use of J&J was temporarily suspended in April.

More bad news for South Africa's reliance on J&J – which had recently signed a deal with Aspen to produce doses at its Gqeberha facility – come in the form of another FDA flag. This time, concerning contaminated ingredients at a Baltimore factory.

The FDA investigation lasted for more than a month – during which no J&J shots were administered in South Africa – and ultimately resulted in Aspen having to dump 2 million doses.

Covid-19 rollout in South Africa
Data supplied by the national department of health

In the meantime, South Africa pivoted to the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. These doses kickstarted Phase 2 of South Africa's rollout, which opened to the general public and those aged 60 and above in mid-May.

Add in South Africa's lacklustre vaccination performance over weekends and deadly riots in the country's two most populated provinces, it's fair to say the rollout has faced – and overcome – serious hurdles.

Covid-19 rollout in South Africa
Data supplied by the national department of health

With J&J and Pfizer underpinning the rollout – around 30 million doses of each have been ordered – the supply chain appears steady. The department of health has promised to start vaccinating more people on the weekend, starting in August – to meet the short-term target of 300,000 doses administered per day – and the rollout is opening to younger age groups at a quicker rate than first anticipated.

Covid-19 rollout in South Africa
Data supplied by the national department of health

Picking up the rollout's pace

Critical to the recent increase in tempo has been the health department's updated policy to allow those registered on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) to walk-in to receive their jabs. Sites are accepting those with and without appointments; those with medical aids and the uninsured alike.

Vaccinations opened to people aged between 50 and 59 – almost doubling the number of people eligible to be vaccinated – in early July. Two weeks later, and ahead of schedule, the rollout was opened to people in the 35 to 49 age group, representing some 11 million people.  

Covid-19 rollout in South Africa
Data supplied by the national department of health

Running concurrently with the age-based, general population programme is the work-based strategy which has vaccinated teachers, soldiers, police officers, social workers, miners, and public transport operators.

The third and final phase of the rollout is set to begin in September, when anybody over the age of 18 can register for their Covid-19 vaccines. South Africa hopes to vaccinate some 40 million people – or 67% of the total population – within the first quarter of 2022 to achieve herd immunity.

Covid-19 rollout in South Africa
Data supplied by the national department of health

At the current rate of around 1.3 million doses a week, 67% of the total population would've received at least one dose of the Covid-19 vaccine by March 2022.

Note: The data contained in this article and used to create the infographics was retrieved from the national health department's Covid-19 online portal (sacoronavirus.co.za) on Thursday 29 July 2021. Data relating to Covid-19 vaccination numbers change daily.

(Compiled by Luke Daniel)

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