South Africa is in a race against time to vaccinate as many people as possible amid signs the virus may be surging again with the approach of winter in the southern hemisphere, when people spend more time indoors, typically allowing for more spread of disease.
It is also a critical front in the fight against the virus in Africa, with South Africa recording 40% of the continent’s Covid-19 deaths.
Since January, South Africa has vaccinated nearly 500,000 of its 1.2 million healthcare workers and now is adding its older citizens to the campaign. In the past two weeks, nearly 200,000 have received their Pfizer jabs with instructions to come back in six weeks to get their second dose.
After a plateau of the disease that lasted a few months, South Africa’s new cases, hospitalisations and deaths are trending up. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 3.33 per 100,000 people on 12 May to 3.97 per 100,000 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of deaths is also on the rise: from 0.10 deaths per 100,000 people to 0.11 per 100,000 over the same period.
The increase may seem small, but experts warn it may be the start of a resurgence as the country enters the colder winter months, which start in June.
The national coronavirus task force met this week and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is pondering the possibility of reimposing restrictions, such as reducing the hours that alcohol can be sold and limiting the number of people at gatherings.
“We’re under pressure to reach higher levels of vaccination,” Mosa Moshabela, professor of public health at the University of KwaZulu-Natal, told the Associated Press.
“New vaccination centers are opening every day and the numbers being given shots should quickly go from 20,000 elderly per day to 50,000 and then 100,000 per day,” he said. “By June we should reach 200,000 per day. We need to have that kind of volume to get close to vaccinating 5 million elderly by the end of June.”
South Africa’s overall goal is to vaccinate 67% of its 60 million people by February.