Government’s adjusted vaccine rollout timeline has become increasingly unrealistic

Earlier today Acting Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, provided an update with regard to South Africa’s COVID-19 Sisonke vaccine rollout, confirming new time frames for the three phases of the programme that government has in mind.

While the update is welcome, looking at some of the numbers that have been bandied about by Ntshavheni, they simply don’t seem to add up, regardless of the fact that the vaccine rollout programme has just been extended to 54 sites across the country.

Phase 1 of the programme for example, is targeting 1.5 million vaccinations, the majority of which have been earmarked for frontline healthcare workers. The timeframe for phase 1 is three months – February, March and April – with only 207 808 vaccines being administered to date according to the latest report from the National Department of Health (NDoH). This means that in the first two months of phase 1, only 13.85 percent of the department’s own target has been met.

Given the number of public holidays in April, completing the remaining 1.3 million vaccines over the next five weeks seems optimistic at best and a little irresponsible.

That said, the 1.3 million remaining vaccinations is achievable, according to Ntshavheni. “The Department of Health is on track to vaccinate all healthcare workers by the end of Phase 1,” the acting minister added.

As for phases 2 and 3, Ntshavheni noted that the second phase of the rollout would begin in May and be carried out over six months.

“This phase will cover over 13 350 140 vulnerable groups, essential workers, and occupational health and safety stream, including workers in sectors that are critical for economic recovery such as mines, hospitality, the taxi industry, retail and spaza shops, fruit and vegetable vendors, media and other applicable beneficiaries,” she explained.

In order to vaccinate its target numbers during phases 2 and 3, Ntshavheni says the number of vaccination sites will increase significantly to 2 085, and will include private sector sites.

Lastly, for phase 3, which targets the most number of people, but in half the time frame that phase 2 does. For this phase government has slated it for three months between November 2021 and February 2022 to vaccinate 22 600 640 people.

It therefore looks like life under lockdown and having to deal with the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa will likely last well into next year, provided no delays occur to the vaccine rollout process or no significant waves of infection are recorded.

Either way, the handling of vaccine procurement, distribution and inoculation up until now has left a lot to be desired.

[Image – Photo by Daniel Schludi on Unsplash]

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