Health minister Joe Phaahla. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA/BUSINESS DAY
Health minister Joe Phaahla. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA/BUSINESS DAY

As the second anniversary of Covid-19’s inception draws near, experts are grappling with an uneven vaccine rollout, not just globally but among SA’s own provinces.

According to a health briefing on Friday, it appears that four of our provinces are faring better than the others.

“Four provinces are within reach to achieve 50% of adult population in a matter of weeks: Western Cape at 48.20%, Free State at 46.88%, Limpopo at 44.93% and Eastern Cape at 45%. If the other provinces can start to pull up we can reach 50% nationally soon,” health minister Joe Phaahla said.

Still opting for encouragement over a mandatory approach, Phaahla said: “The message is simple and straightforward, if we all vaccinate we can have a safe and enjoyable festive season unlike what happened in December 2020 and January 2021.”

Some experts say mandates are the way forward, but the government has intensified the incentivisation route.

Our numbers still scream to me about a lack of demand creation.
Prof Francois Venter, head of health organisation Ezintsha

However, according to Wits University professor Francois Venter, who heads the health organisation Ezintsha: “Our numbers still scream to me about a lack of demand creation. Why was the government not offering incentives six months ago already? It is shocking to me how little of our Pfizer stock we have used.”

He said it’s “all very well offering food vouchers for old people”, but asks: “Why wasn’t this done long ago?”

He said there is a “clear problem” when you have to “work hard to get people into the system”, and while experts blame low numbers on hesitancy, Venter disagrees. “It’s not because people are stubborn. It’s because the health system is not patient friendly, it’s healthcare worker friendly.”

He said the SA government “cannot talk about hesitancy, it just hasn’t tried very hard. Incentives should have come a long time ago.”

According to the latest Vaccine Social Listening Report, which the department of health collates from a variety of external sources, vaccine acceptance has seen a slight increase.

“There is multiple anecdotal evidence that there is a small shift in public sentiments from vaccine hesitancy towards more keenness for vaccination in many parts of the country,” according to the report, but “logical barriers” persist and stop people from being vaccinated.

One example is that people cannot afford the transportation to get to the sites.

Also according to the report, anti-vaxxers have capitalised on “legitimate debate” to push their own agendas. It says “many individuals who were not against vaccination per se are angry and are now refusing to vaccinate as they feel their freedom of choice is going to be restricted”.

“People who have opposed any Covid-19 vaccination are now taking advantage of legitimate debate around compulsory vaccination to increase levels of protest against the whole vaccine rollout.”

This also came into play during the election.

According to the report, “the African Christian Democratic Party [ACDP] in particular has opposition to ‘forced’ vaccination as a core part of their local election campaign”.

However, “the SA Human Rights Commission says it is constitutionally permissible to require vaccination in specific circumstances”.

“Several companies now have vaccine mandates, including Mediclinic and Life Healthcare, and many more are considering it.” 

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