The second phase of South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination roll-out commences this week. Running from mid-May to mid-November, this phase is expected to see some 16.6 million people vaccinated by the Department of Health. People eligible to receive vaccines during this phase include people over 60, essential workers, people in congregate settings, and those over 18 with co-morbidities. This is good news for seniors, who are at greater risk of contracting COVID-19.
South Africa began rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination programme on 17 February, aiming to vaccinate 40 million South Africans, or around 67 percent of the population, in order to achieve ‘herd immunity’. According to the government’s COVID-19 portal, the vaccination programme is a key intervention to mitigate the public health and economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. The online vaccination registration portal went live on 16 April and according to Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) is available to the general public and all citizens aged 60 years and above, to register for vaccination.
March 5th, 2021, marked one year since the first case of the coronavirus was reported in South Africa, and much has changed since then. Since the start of the vaccine roll-out, 414 000 people have been vaccinated – around 0,7 percent of South Africa’s population. Certain sectors of the South African population, such as front-line healthcare workers, have been prioritised for receiving the vaccine.
Barry Kaganson, CEO of Auria Senior Living, which develops and manages gold-standard senior living environments in South Africa, says that vaccinations for seniors are a matter of priority. It is well-known that older people and those who already have certain health conditions are more susceptible to contracting the coronavirus, so vaccination is key in helping to protect this vulnerable segment of the population.
There does appear to be some teething problems as people get to grips with using the registration portal and other systems. However, it is a relief to see that progress is being made towards vaccinating those most at risk, by many different parties. Aside from the launch of the online portal, some medical aid schemes appear to be communicating with members about their options, adding a boost from the private sector’s side. The Department of Health has reportedly indicated that it is gearing up to administer on-site vaccines. This could also be of great assistance in protecting the country’s senior population.
“We have been liaising pro-actively with the Provincial Government to have our residents vaccinated as soon as possible and our nurses are receiving any necessary training that they may need. Our residents will then be vaccinated in the comfort of their own familiar environments,” says Kaganson. In theory, with the correct logistics in place, vaccines would only need to be delivered to the relevant locations and the rest could be done without the need for government staff on site. This would speed up the process significantly and would assist in vaccinating a large and vulnerable portion of the population.
Of course, vaccinations are not available to everyone and the process may not reach as many as it ideally should in the time frames projected. For those who are not vaccinated or who still have to wait, it is important to continue adhering to the practices of sanitising, hand-washing and social distancing. While national and local lockdowns and behavioural measures have helped to curb the spread of the virus in South Africa, it is important to protect those who are most vulnerable to infection – not only to keep them safe but to prevent them from passing on the virus in turn.
“We cannot risk another hard lockdown, for multiple reasons. Even if one looks only at the sector of the population that we work with, it was clear that last year’s lockdown was difficult and damaging for many senior citizens. Many other countries around the world have already vaccinated their senior populations and it is important that we do so too,” says Kaganson.