Sunday Times

Slow pace of vaccine rollout is killing hope, not to mention people

- By RAY McCAULEY ✼ McCauley is president of Rhema Family Churches and chair of the National Religious Leaders Council

Seeing the first consignmen­t of the Covid-19 vaccines arrive on February 1 inspired hope that the pandemic was nearing its end. It was like a ray of light at the end of a long tunnel. Sadly, that hope disappeare­d as quickly as it had arrived when our scientists discovered that the efficacy of the Oxford/AstraZenec­a vaccine we had received was questionab­le. It turns out it has poor efficacy for people who have mild symptoms yet is 79% effective against symptomati­c Covid and 100% effective in preventing severe disease and hospitalis­ations.

Since that setback, President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza and health minister Zweli Mkhize have been trying to convince South Africans that all is well and that the vaccine rollout is on track. But fewer than 300,000 health workers have been vaccinated, compared to millions in other countries. The rollout has been painfully slow.

While we support the government in the fight against the virus, it is worrying that it is not giving us clear timelines on the arrival of vaccines and rollout plans. The scientists are warning us about the possibilit­y of a third wave of infections at the beginning of June, so it seems to me we won’t have enough time to start with a massive vaccinatio­n programme of the population, particular­ly the senior citizens, remaining frontline workers and people with underlying conditions.

The slow pace of the rollout has drawn sharp criticism from political parties, business organisati­ons, church and religious leaders and civil society. Their criticism is justified because if we continue at this pace we will be in trouble and our plans to reach herd immunity will not be realised in the medium term.

Every day that we delay in vaccinatin­g the people of SA leads to more deaths. With continued deaths and infection rates our economy will continue to suffer and our recovery will take longer.

Ramaphosa and his team must speed up the rollout of vaccines to the most vulnerable South Africans without any further delays. It boggles the mind how even small countries on our continent with fewer resources than we have have started their vaccinatio­n rollouts.

It is now a year since the pandemic started and our news is still dominated by the extent of the destructio­n caused by the virus on people’s lives, which continues to badly affect businesses, big and small, as well as the unemployme­nt rate. The answer to this crisis is the vaccine, accompanie­d by a continuati­on of following mandatory hygiene protocols.

We all want the pandemic to end.

We want the destructio­n of the economy and human life to end. We all agree that we have been through too much and the sooner this pandemic ends, the better for us all.

Many of us look forward to returning to our “normal lives”, where families can visit each other without fear of getting sick, where those in hospital can be visited without the worry of infecting their loved ones, and where we can bury our loved ones with dignity and respect. A future where children can go back to school and teachers can go back to their classrooms without the worry and anxiety of being exposed to the virus.

Likewise, we need to go back to our places of worship freely again. People in communitie­s need help with counsellin­g for depression, suicide and anxiety, and general emotional and physical support. They depend on help from their pastors and churches, but without free movement this help is not available.

Finally, the private sector, big business, civil society and church and religious leaders must continue to support and partner the government to overcome this virus. The same goes for the political parties. They cannot be bystanders while the battle rages. While we understand that opposition parties have the right and responsibi­lity to criticise those in power, this battle is not only for the government to fight, it is also for all of us. We have the opportunit­y to unite and defeat the invisible enemy together.

In the meantime, we must do our best to give people hope. It empowers people and gives them something to hang on to when they know that help is on the way and that there is light at the end of the tunnel.

It boggles the mind how even small countries on our continent with fewer resources have started their [rollouts]

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