ORANGE FARM, SOUTH AFRICA – Playful and gray-haired, many wearing their Sunday best or colorful African prints – and all sporting masks – dozens of South Africans aged 60 and over are at a government health clinic outside Johannesburg for their COVID-19 Gathered to receive – 19 shots.
Some saw the vaccine information on their mobile phones, others were holding pieces of paper, as the line was moving at a good pace. Eight at a time, they were taken to a tent, where they took seats away from each other.
“You are about to receive a vaccine to protect against COVID-19. It is the Pfizer vaccine and requires two doses,” said a nurse, speaking Zulu, to the group at the Orange Farm Township Clinic, about 30 miles (45 kilometers) south of Johannesburg. She explained what they should do about possible side effects.
“Amen,” she said in closing, and the vaccine recipients murmured the same reaction as those in the church.
With the arrival of winter in the Southern Hemisphere, the virus may increase again, when people spend more time indoors, usually allowing greater spread of the disease, so South Africa continues to vaccinate more and more people over time. is in the race. It is also an important 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 around 500,000 of its 1.2 million health care workers and is now adding older citizens to the campaign. In the last two weeks, approximately 200,000 have received Pfizer jabs and have been instructed to return in six weeks to take their second dose.
“I am getting the vaccine because I want to stay alive,” said 76-year-old Elizabeth Mokwena. “I know this is the best thing for me to do against this COVID.”
After a few months of the disease plateau, the trend of new cases, hospitalizations and deaths in South Africa is increasing. The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen over the past two weeks from 3.33 per 100,000 people on May 12 to 3.97 per 100,000 on Wednesday, according to Johns Hopkins University. The seven-day rolling average of deaths is also increasing: 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 could be the start of a resurgence as the country enters the colder winter months, which begin in June.
The National Coronavirus Task Force met this week and President Cyril Ramaphosa’s government is considering the possibility of re-enforcing sanctions, such as reducing alcohol sales hours and limiting the number of people in gatherings.
South Africa has by far the heaviest burden of this disease in Africa. According to the Africa Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the country has recorded more than 30% of cases and 40% of deaths in all 54 countries in Africa, with more than 1.6 million confirmed cases, including 55,976 deaths. According to the Africa CDC, 4.7 million cases have been reported in the continent of 1.3 billion people, including 129,000 deaths.
South Africa has targeted to vaccinate 5 million seniors by the end of June, so the slow start of the new campaign should accelerate.
“We are under pressure to reach higher levels of immunization,” 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 number of shots being given should increase from 20,000 elderly to 50,000 per day and then to 100,000 per day,” he said. “By June we should reach 200,000 per day. We need that kind. By the end of June we are expected to get close to vaccinating 5 million elderly.”
South Africa’s overall goal is to have 67% of its 60 million people vaccinated by February. To achieve this it has purchased 30 million Pfizer doses, of which 1.3 million have been distributed so far and 4.5 million are expected by the end of June.
The country has also ordered 31 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which have yet to arrive. An initial delivery of 500,000 doses was used to vaccinate health care workers.
According to studies, both J&J and Pfizer vaccines are effective against the COVID-19 type predominant in South Africa. Earlier this year South Africa received 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from a UN-backed COVAX initiative, but canceled their use because an initial, small study showed that it does not offer effective protection against the variant.
“It was a good move for South Africa to buy Pfizer and J&J vaccines on their own,” said Moshabella, who is also working as Vice Chancellor for Research and Innovation at the University of KwaZulu-Natal. “Many other African countries are now stuck because COVAX deliveries of (AstraZeneca) vaccines from India have been delayed.”
“We are ready for a slow start, but it will pick up speed and we will have an adequate supply of vaccines. It is a good thing that we bought them outright,” he said.
Africa’s dependence on COVAX to supply the AstraZeneca vaccine has led to problems now that India, surrounded by a deadly boom, has halted the export of shots as long as it has a substantial amount of its 1.4 billion people Does not get vaccinated.
The World Health Organization announced on Thursday that Africa needed at least 20 million AstraZeneca doses in the next six weeks to give a second shot to all those who received the first dose.
In addition, another 200 million doses of approved vaccines are needed so that the continent can vaccinate 10% of its population by September, the WHO said.
So far, only 28 million vaccines have been administered in Africa, representing less than 2% of the continent’s population. Globally, 1.5 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered.
“Africa now needs vaccines. Any stagnation in our vaccination campaigns will kill people and lose hope, ”Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s Regional Director for Africa, said on Thursday.
“It is too early to tell if Africa is at the mouth of the third wave. However, we know cases are on the rise, and the clock is ticking so we urgently appeal to countries that have encouraged their high-risk groups to accelerate dose-sharing to fully protect the most vulnerable. appealed for.
At the Orange Farm Clinic in South Africa, where about 200 people were vaccinated daily this week, Freedman Zikhali said he was happy to get his first dose.
The 76-year-old said in Zulu, “Getting this vaccine was the right thing to do.”
“I used to ask myself while watching TV, ‘Why haven’t I received the vaccine while others around the world are being vaccinated?’ So I think what I’ve done here is right. “