Stuttering take-up of jabs threatens target
• Daily vaccination rate at lowest level in over a month • Apathy partly to blame — official
SA’s average Covid-19 vaccination rate has dropped to its lowest level in over a month, a trend that threatens to throw off course the government’s plan to inoculate three-quarters of the population by year end. It will also fuel debate about measures such as vaccine passports.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the seven-day daily uptake in vaccinations dropped to levels last seen in early August, when only those over 35 years were allowed access to the jab.
Allowing all those over 18 years access caused a spike in the uptake of vaccinations over the past month, but there has been a significant slump in the past seven days.
A far cry from the yet-to-be attained target set by President Cyril Ramaphosa of 300,000 daily doses, an average of 170,000 Covid-19 vaccines have been administered daily. Just over 187,000 were administered on Wednesday, an increase from Monday when about 159,000 jabs were dispensed, the lowest number on a weekday since August 13, when 147,307 jabs were given.
The development, which has regulators and business worried, suggests SA might miss its target of immunising 70% of the population by year end, a proportion considered by experts to be enough to avoid the sort of lockdowns that have whacked SA’s already weak economic prospects and left the tourism and leisure sector fighting for survival.
The country – which will celebrate Heritage Day on Friday
– goes into the long weekend with 29.77%, or 16-million people, vaccinated, according to health department statistics released on Wednesday. That drops the rate of those in the country fully vaccinated to about 15% since early 2021.
“We need to take advantage of the third wave dying down — and take advantage now.
“People need to get vaccinated now,” said Nicholas Crisp, the health department’s acting director-general.
In an interview with Business Day on Wednesday, Crisp described the downward trend
in the rate of vaccination as something of deep concern.
“It is not just hesitancy, it is also apathy. There are plenty of vaccine sites. In the coming weeks, we need to focus more on outreach.”
Poor uptake by those 35 and over forced the government to open up vaccines to all adults last month, but numbers have flagged in the past seven days.
The plunging vaccination rate is likely to intensify debate about how to boost take-up, especially after Discovery announced recently that it would make it mandatory for its staff to be inoculated. It also comes amid calls from business lobby groups for vaccine passports, which would let people prove they are inoculated before being admitted into places such as hotels, sports events and restaurants.
“A vaccine mandate is within the form and spirit of returning SA to normality once private businesses have done a risk evaluation,” said Martin Kingston, chair of Business for SA (B4SA).
“We think with very limited exceptions, if it is in the public good, sector by sector and location by location, [that businesses] should insist on patrons being vaccinated,” he said.
B4SA is made up of Business Unity SA and the Black Business Council and was formed to respond to the Covid-19 crisis and look out for members’ interests, especially in the alcohol, tourism and leisure sectors. Those sectors having tallying up losses for much for the past 20 months as they have had to cope with revenue-sapping cycles of restrictions that cut them off from their customers.
“It is a matter of concern and speaks to our capacity as a country to administer vaccines,” Kingston said.
“We believe that the programme in the coming days will see more appropriate communication campaigns. We cannot rely on a single mouthpiece. We need to speak to and not at local communities. Soft incentives will take time to enforce.”