It’s official: No vaccine priority for South Africans with co-morbidities – ever

Business Insider SA
No Covid-19
  • The government promised priority for people with co-morbidities in the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccine rollout, which is now under way.
  • That is not happening, and seems unlikely to happen at any point in the future.
  • The idea is hard to implement both legally and logistically, says the man in charge of the EVDS system.
  • Data also suggests it is also unnecessary, because age prioritisation generally includes those most at risk anyway, the department of health says.
  • For more stories go to

People with co-morbidities are not now, and will almost certainly not in future, receive priority access to Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa – despite earlier government promises.

As recently as January, government strategy was to include people with high-risk conditions for severe Covid-19 in the second phase of vaccine rollout, which is currently under way. And as recently as February, provinces were planning their vaccine rollouts with co-morbidities in mind.

But only healthcare workers and those over 60 are being vaccinated, and it is likely to stay that way.

"There is no prospect that co-morbidities will ever become a factor in prioritising vaccine recipients," said Nicholas Crisp, the health deputy director general in charge of the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), for various reasons, including legal and logistical ones.

See also | SA paid Covax R280 million 5 months ago – and hasn't received a single vaccine dose yet

"For us to collect people’s personal health information and feed that into an algorithm is legally problematic," he told Business Insider South Africa on Wednesday. In addition, “anyone can tell us anything and we can’t check".

Based on current scientific advice, age will be the only determinant of who gets vaccine priority, he said.

A department of health circular this week clearly stated that only people who are 60 and older are now being vaccinated, not people with co-morbidities. That went largely unnoticed until tweeted by Bhekisisa editor Mia Malan.

The department of health’s official vaccination programme registration portal also states that vaccinations start with people 60 years and older, and “move down the age groups”.

Click “no”, when asked if you are 60 years or older, and you will be asked to wait to be invited to register at a later date. There’s no option to register if you have co-morbidities and are not under the age of 60.

Attempts by those under 60 to register will be rejected based on their ID numbers, Crisp said.

Statistically, those most at risk from the coronavirus because of underlying conditions such as diabetes also fall into older age groups, Bhekisisa reported.

South Africa's elite athletes are due to be fully vaccinated, with the last available J&J doses, by the end of this week, Business Insider SA first reported this week.

See also | SA’s last thousand doses of J&J Sisonke vaccine will go to rugby and Olympic stars this week

The last thousand doses of vaccine, which had been due for healthcare workers in the Sisonke trial, could have been wasted had they not been assigned to sports stars, the South African Medical Research Council said.

J&J is a single dose vaccine, which means athletes will be considered protected, and free to travel, two weeks after their injections.

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