South Africa

Plan for youth to help Covid-19 registration drive

The Presidential Youth Employment Initiative could be revived to boost Covid-19 vaccination registrations.

Acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said the low level of registration among over-60s was mainly due to difficulties with the government's electronic vaccination data system (EVDS).

Now the government is "engaging with partners" about unleashing an army of unemployed young people to assist their elders with registration.

"In the coming week, we are hoping that we will have these details finalised," Kubayi-Ngubane told Newzroom Afrika yesterday.

The faltering vaccination programme faces a key test this week with the arrival of 1.5-million doses that have already thawed.

This means the Johnson & Johnson vials will have to be used quickly so that they don't expire, the head of the department of health vaccination rollout, Nicholas Crisp, told MPs on Thursday.

The target is to use the J&J consignment, much of which will be aimed at 582,000 staff in the public and private education sector - regardless of their age - within 10 working days. But that will mean tripling the pace achieved in the rollout's first month.

By Friday, 1,589,578 people had been vaccinated in SA since May 18, when the rollout moved beyond health workers who received jabs as part of the Sisonke trial of the J&J vaccine.

The 300,000 doses will not be enough for the entire sector, but the next consignment of vaccines - from a similar source in the US with a short expiry date - is expected next week.

Once teachers are all vaccinated these doses will go to the security cluster, starting with police officers, then the military and prison staff.

Crisp confirmed to GroundUp this week that 54-million 1ml syringes were due for delivery, starting at the end of June. These are more efficient than the 3ml syringes currently being used, which retain a small amount of vaccine that is then wasted.

GroundUp reported that vaccinators are getting only five doses from Pfizer vials, instead of the six they supposedly contain, because of syringe anomalies.

University of Cape Town economics professor Nicoli Nattrass said SA needs to almost double the number of vaccinations this month to use up available doses, then to triple the pace by July.

"There is no point in stockpiling vaccine, especially in this third wave," Nattrass told the Sunday Times.

"We are vaccinating about 460,000 people a week and we currently have at least 700,000 doses available for use right now," she said. "We will be getting in another 2.7-million Pfizer doses this month. To use this up, we need to triple our current pace of vaccination."

Wits University professor of medicine Francois Venter said that unless the pace of vaccinations dramatically increases, SA will be unprepared for the fourth wave.

"Everything should be focused on securing the vaccines we were promised ... and getting these into the arms of the vulnerable. Everything," he said.

Speaking during a webinar on Friday chaired by Kubayi-Ngubane, Crisp said the answer is "more sites and more vaccines".

He said 300,000 J&J doses have already been received to fill the gap caused by the dumping of 2-million doses after a US Food and Drug Administration decision that they may be unsafe.

This meant the education vaccinations will begin immediately after deliveries are made on Tuesday. "Many of these people would have already been vaccinated because they are over the age of 60 and work as psychologists and health-care workers, but most still need to be vaccinated," Crisp said.

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