Phase One of the COVID-19 vaccination programme continued, with nearly 330,000 health workers now vaccinated, out of a total of 1.2 million targeted. Phase Two is scheduled to start in mid-May, focusing on those 60 years and older, people with comorbidities, in congregate settings and frontline workers. The final phase is expected to roll out from November into early 2022.
UNICEF is supporting COVID-19 vaccination work through cold chain specialists; training for cold chain managers; participation in the development of a COVID-19 vaccination field guide; training of health care workers on the Med Safety Application, an electronic tool for reporting adverse events (AEFI) following immunization; and risk communication and community engagement work promoting vaccines and adherence to COVID-19 prevention measures.
Nearly 300,000 children under five years have not received their routine immunizations, leaving them at risk of serious but preventable childhood diseases. UNICEF South Africa is supporting the immunization and health catch-up drive across all 52 districts, with rates slowly recovering. Latest statistics showed that eight of 12 priority districts reached the 90% coverage target. A widely picked up Press Release during World Immunisation Week highlighted this situation, UNICEF’s response, and a call to prioritize child health services.
On April 13, South Africa temporarily halted the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccination, following the suspension of its use in the US, after rare blood clotting cases. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) lifted the suspension on 23 April, with revised screening protocols and enhanced safety monitoring processes.
The country remains at Alert Level One, as COVID-19 infection rates continued to stay stable, although an increase in infections in the North West and Free State provinces are being monitored. Concern about a potential ‘third wave’ remains, with ‘COVID fatigue’ and the potential of a new variant posing a potential threat to the rate of infection.
South Africa is receiving an allocation of Pfizer vaccines through the UNICEF, WHO and GAVI supported COVAX facility, expected to arrive in early May. Additional vaccine doses are being secured through bilateral deals between the Government and pharmaceutical companies, with weekly shipments expected from May onwards.