Despite being among the first countries in Africa to receive COVID-19 vaccines, South Africa has vaccinated less than 0.6% of its population to date.
When the first batches of COVID-19 vaccines were rolled out in February this year, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize were among the first to get the jab alongside some of the country’s frontline health care workers.
Since then, just over 350,000 South Africans (in a population of over 58 million) have received the vaccine as of May 2021.
As a middle-income country that hosts a vaccine manufacturing site on its own soil, South Africa has comparatively better resources than most African nations to supply its people with a vaccine. However there have been several hiccups on the way to making sure that every person gets their vaccine.
So what has taken the country so long to roll out vaccines, and when can South Africans expect to get their jab?
Why has South Africa's COVID-19 vaccine rollout been so slow?
Not only is South Africa the hardest-hit country by COVID-19 on the continent, it also experienced one of the first coronavirus variants in the world.
In December 2020 the country announced the discovery of 501Y.V2 — a variant that proved to be a more contagious mutation of the SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID-19.
In response, the country was on high alert and stricter lockdown measures were put in place over the festive season. However, the first vaccines had never been tested on this new variant, meaning that there was a chance that a COVID-19 vaccine would not be effective in the country.
This is exactly what happened when South Africa received its first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines. The country celebrated the arrival of one million doses of the Oxford/Astrazeneca shot on Feb. 1, only to double back on celebrations one week later when it turned out that the shot was not effective against the new variant. This was the first setback in the country’s rollout plan.
South Africa then became the first country in the world to roll out the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine after it secured 80,000 doses of the one-shot jab just two weeks after the AstraZeneca delivery. The J&J vaccine not only proved to be effective in protecting against the 501Y.V2 variant, but it also could be manufactured on home soil, making distribution of the vaccines easier.
But fast forward to April and the country halted the distribution of the J&J vaccine, along with the United States, in order to investigate reports of blood clots as a side-effect. Before this, South Africa was vaccinating an estimated 10,000 people daily. As the J&J shot is the only one the country had been using, this pause in distribution presented a major setback.
The country resumed its rollout on April 26 and is set to supply the African Union with J&J vaccines as well.
Aspen Pharmacare, the pharmaceutical company in charge of manufacturing the J&J vaccines in the country, currently has the capacity to produce over 200 million doses of the vaccine annually. Half of all doses produced by the company this year will go to the African Union, while around 31 million J&J doses will be set aside for South Africa.
There is currently no set timeline on these deliverables.
What is South Africa’s vaccine rollout plan?
South Africa is planning to rollout the vaccines in three phases:
Phase one: As with many countries, frontline health care workers will be prioritised and are already being vaccinated. Once the estimated 1.2 million health care workers have been inoculated, the rollout moves to the next phase.
Phase two: People over 60 years old, frontline essential workers, and peoples over 18 years old with comorbidities are next in line after health care workers.
Phase three: Finally, at this phase of the rollout, the remainder of the South African population will be able to register for a vaccine. Officials have committed to prioritising 22.5 million South Africans over the age of 18 in order to vaccinate 67% of the population by March 2022, in order to achieve herd immunity.
How to register for a COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa
In order to register for the vaccine, citizens can head over to the vaccine registration portal when it is their turn to get the vaccine. Currently registration for the vaccine is open to those who fall into phase one and people who are over the age of 60.
Registering for the vaccine is fairly simple, all you need is your ID number and your medical aid card should you have one.
Once on the portal, follow the steps by filling in your personal details, which will include your residential address and cellphone number. If your registration has been successful, you should receive confirmation through SMS.
You’ll then receive a follow up SMS with the date, time, and location for your vaccination.
Where will citizens get their vaccine?
After registering, people will get an SMS directing them to their nearest vaccine site.
There are currently around 31 official vaccine sites across all nine South African provinces, and the government plans to make vaccines available at over 2,000 sites as the rollout continues. Currently the COVID-19 vaccine is being administered at hospitals only, with those most affected by the pandemic being prioritised for vaccine distribution.
This article was written in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, a funding partner of Global Citizen.
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