South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout is being constrained by site closures over weekends. This is set to change on 1 August, with the department of health announcing that public vaccination sites will operate on Saturdays and Sundays, with the aim to reach 300,000 people a day.
South Africa’s vaccine rollout, which aims to reach 67% of the population before May 2022, is behind target. Disruptions to the mass immunisation programme have resulted in regulatory delays and supply constraints. And while these issues have been overcome – increasing the uptake to its highest levels in recent days – the country’s inability to keep momentum over the weekend has added further pressure to the 2022 deadline.
It’s estimated that 1.3 million more vaccine doses – a third of national the tally – could’ve been administered between May and June if sites were open and adequately staffed, according to the latest NIDS-CRAM survey. Weekend vaccinations could’ve placed South Africa at 86% of its monthly target. Instead, the rollout only achieved 60% by the end of June.
South Africa’s current daily average vaccination rate between Monday and Friday exceeds 150,000 doses. Less than 22,000 doses were administered on Saturday and Sunday, representing just 7% of the daily average recorded during the work week.
The national department of health, which has blamed this weekend lull on budget constraints that cannot accommodate overtime pay for healthcare workers at vaccination sites, has been severely criticised for low rates outside the regular work week.
As South Africa’s rollout widens to include other age groups – with those aged 50 and above already receiving their jabs at a rapid rate and those aged 35 and over allowed to register for their vaccines from 15 July – the issue of weekend vaccinations has been relooked.
In an attempt to speed up the vaccination rollout and make up for lost time, the health department, during a media briefing on Friday morning, confirmed that weekend vaccinations would be rapidly scaled from 1 August.
“This week we held a bilateral meeting with national treasury, where the matter for funding of the vaccination programme was clarified,” explained acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi.
“To this end, we will be starting our work to ensure the availability of human capital to vaccinate over weekends as well. Our target for this is the 1st of August 2021 and my appeal that we continue working together with the provinces to achieve this target.”
The inclusion of weekend vaccinations will go a long way to reaching government’s short-term target of 300,000 daily vaccinations, as prescribed by President Cyril Ramaphosa himself. By Friday, more than 190,000 doses had been administered in 24 hours, representing the highest daily rate of vaccination since the rollout began in February. This is still 37% short of the president’s target.
“We are very confident that before the end of July we should surpass 250,000 [doses administered] per day and by the time we reach August we should be able to reach the target set by our president of 300,000 per day,” said the Deputy Minister of Health, Dr Joe Phaahla, during Friday’s briefing.
Other updates to the rollout, in addition to the rapid expansion to include other age groups within the vulnerability-determined approach, include changes to private sector’s acceptance policy. Private facilities have been instructed to vaccinate those who do not have medical aid coverage and have started accepting walk-ins who have registered on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) but have not yet been allocated a timeslot.