The big story: What’s up with the vaccine delay?

Feeling panicked about the slow-down in South Africa’s vaccine roll-out? We hear you. It’s difficult watching developed nations boast about their jabs while our first phase is seemingly stalled and most of our health workers STILL haven’t got their jabs in our first phase roll-out. #FOMO 😓

Professor Glenda Gray’s estimation (she is a co-lead investigator for the J&J vaccine trial) is that only 500 000 healthcare workers will be vaccinated by the end of April – if there are no delays. 

We’re obviously falling short of the initial plan. South Africa’s original target was that 1.5 million people should be inoculated by the end of March (phase 1), when AstraZeneca was still part of the picture. We’re now closing in on that date and so far only 207 000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated. That’s a seventh of the target! 

So it was no surprise when, today, government announced that the timeline for rollout has changed.

◾️Phase 2: now planned from May – Oct, targeting 13 million people from vulnerable groups like frontline workers, and the elderly. 

◾️Phase 3: planned from November 2021 to February 2022, targeting 22 million citizens. 

This means most of us have to now wait till November for that all-important shot. 😕

So what’s behind the delay? The big issue is lack of stock. Remember, we had procured a large amount of AstraZeneca vaccines but had to make a plan B when those were found to be of limited use against the local variant. We switched to the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine. But we just can’t get enough of it. And it’s a moving target with the other options: a new study by Israeli scientists suggests that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is ALSO less effective against the local variant.

With a situation as fast-moving as Covid, we need to accept that things don’t always go quite according to plan. 

But on a more positive note, chair of the steering committee at Business for SA Martin Kingston said the rollout will go faster once commercially procured Pfizer and J&J vaccines arrive, and as the trial phase of the vaccine rollout for health workers is concluded. The country receives approximately 80,000 J&J doses every two weeks as part of the Sisonke study.

Remember: this initial roll-out was part of this large study. Things should go much faster when the proper roll-out is in place.