Fresh round of Covid-19 shots available from Monday
Adults older than 50 can get a third booster, while those aged between 18 and 49 are eligible for a second one as government seeks to use huge surplus of vaccines
The health department will begin offering a fresh round of Covid-19 booster shots to adults from Monday, with an emphasis on Pfizer’s mRNA jab.
In the wake of lower than anticipated demand, the government has a massive surplus of vaccine doses, with those purchased from Pfizer set to expire before its stockpile of Johnson & Johnson jabs.
Only half the country’s adults have been vaccinated, and the number of people seeking shots has slowed to a trickle. At its peak in August 2021, SA’s vaccination programme reached more than 241,000 people a week. In the week to January 23, only 43,555 individuals got vaccinated, according to government figures.
The health department is the sole buyer of Covid-19 vaccines, and has 8.1-million Pfizer doses on hand. It has another 9.9-million doses of the J&J vaccine, a figure that will rise to 20.9-million when the last of its orders arrives, according to the health department’s deputy director-general for National Health Insurance, Nicholas Crisp, who also leads its Covid-19 vaccination programme.
Adults over the age of 50 will be provided with a third booster shot, while those aged between 18 and 49 will be eligible for a second booster, provided at least six months has elapsed since their last jabs.
A circular sent to provinces by health director-general Sandile Buthelezi says the boosters should preferably be with Pfizer’s vaccine, but if it is not available, or people would prefer not to have it, they may have a J&J shot instead.
“There is now evidence that heterologous boosting is effective both ways,” said Crisp, referring to an approach that seeks to maximise protection by exploiting the different ways the two vaccines prime the immune system to fight SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes Covid-19.
There is no change to the Covid-19 vaccination schedule for children aged between 12 and 17, who are offered a primary regimen of two Pfizer doses six months apart, but no boosters. “There is no evidence that boosting children adds value. If that evidence emerges, I'm sure we will relook at that,” said Crisp.
Individuals seeking boosters can obtain their shots at either public or private sector sites, regardless of whether they belong to medical schemes. The private sector, initially at the forefront of SA’s Covid-19 vaccination programme, now has only a handful of sites still offering vaccines.
Private hospital groups, medical schemes, and most pharmacies have wound down their operations as demand slowed. Retail pharmacy chain Clicks, for example, has now ceased its Covid-19 vaccination programme. It saw vaccinations generate just R4-million in sales in the 20 weeks to 15 January 2023, compared with R685-million in the corresponding period the year before, it said in a trading statement on Tuesday.
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