The Star Late Edition

Over 60s gear up for Pfizer jab

- ZINTLE MAHLATI zintle.mahlati@inl.co.za

THOUSANDS of people over the age of 60 will begin receiving the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine today.

This is as the country moves into phase 2 of the vaccinatio­n drive. Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said over 130 sites would be active from this week to begin vaccinatio­ns. The government aims to vaccinate more than 10 million people during the second phase which runs until October.

The country’s vaccinatio­n drive began with health-care workers who were administer­ed the one-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine.

Thousands of health-care workers have been vaccinated, however, more have yet to receive the jab as the Sisonke programme, in which the vaccinatio­n was run, ended on Saturday. As of Saturday, 478 452 health-care workers were vaccinated in the Sisonke programme.

The SA Medical Research Council last week moved to assure not-yet-vaccinated healthcare workers that they would be added to the second phase of the programme. Snaking lines around some sites were visible last week as health-care workers stood waiting to get their jab.

The government has been urging citizens over 60 to register on the Electronic Vaccinatio­n Data System (EVDS) used to book a vaccinatio­n appointmen­t and track how many people have been vaccinated.

The Pfizer vaccine will be administer­ed to start with as thousands of doses began arriving in the country a few weeks ago. The J&J jab will be added to the pool following a verificati­on process.

The start of the drive comes as the country faces fears of a third wave of the pandemic. Technicall­y, according to Mkhize, the country has yet to reach the third wave. He advocated for greater emphasis on non-pharmaceut­ical measures to help avoid a further rise in cases.

“The number of positive cases is increasing and this is enough to say to us that we must ensure there is a strong response to it,” Mkhize said last week.

Health expert Dr Aslam Dasoo, from the Progressiv­e Health Forum, said the country has delayed long enough in administer­ing vaccines. He said the start of the programme was welcomed, but it would likely have minimal impact on the third wave.

“It is not going to make a difference. Whatever happens with that roll-out it will not have an appreciabl­e effect on the third wave.

“All that might reduce the severity of the third wave might be people themselves taking on non-pharmaceut­ical measures. And for the government to act now with decisivene­ss and prohibit all gatherings unless necessary,” Dr Dasoo said.

Another concern is the presence of two variants, first identified in the UK and India. Whether these will drive a possible rise in infections remains unknown. There have been some concerns about the strength of vaccines against possible new variants.

“Without vaccines being in the picture, this variant would have to be a lot more transmissi­ble than the current dominant variant, and thus far we have no evidence of this,” said Professor Rose Burnett, from the SA Vaccinatio­n and Immunisati­on Centre at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University in Gauteng.

“On the other hand, in the face of high vaccinatio­n coverage, to become dominant this variant would have to be more resistant than the current dominant variant to the immune response produced by the vaccine, and again, there is no evidence that this is the case,” she said.

The EVDS can be accessed at the Department of Health’s website: https://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za/#/

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