Two-thirds of SA could be infected before they are vaccinated

South Africa risks getting two-thirds of the population infected with Covid-19 should the vaccine rollout continue at a snail's pace - a possible disaster for the healthcare system.

While South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine rollout is undeniably not going to reach the target of 67% of the population by the end of the year, building herd immunity by having two-thirds of the population catch the virus would be disastrous – but a possibility based on the current vaccination rate.

DA leader John Steenhuisen on Sunday slammed the current snail’s pace of vaccinations.

“Undoubtedly the biggest violation of the human rights of South Africans has been government’s failure to procure Covid-19 vaccines, and its failure to put in place a roll-out plan for when it might one day purchase meaningful amounts of the vaccine,” Steenhuisen said.

According to Media Hack Collective calculator, at the current rate of 6310 daily Johnson & Johnson vaccinations, it would take South Africa 17 years and five months to vaccinate 67% of the required population for herd immunity.

This could be slightly shortened by seven years should people younger than 15 years be excluded from the vaccine programme, said Stellenbosch University epidemiologist Dr Jo Barnes.

“If you exclude that, it would roughly be 10 years for one dose for each one of us,” she said.

ALSO READ: SA will reach herd immunity by 2039 at current vaccination pace

Steenhuisen, however, said government’s “inexplicable failure to procure vaccines timeously, when these vaccines were available to it”, was a violation of people’s rights to access healthcare services.

But the snail’s pace was due to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being under the Sisonke vaccination programme, which was a study that assessed findings, causing delays, explained Professor Glenda Gray, who heads the study.

“It is not a rollout. It is going at a snail’s pace because we are doing it under study conditions. I wouldn’t compare what we are doing with the Sisonke study with a rollout, and we will only know when the rollout starts how quickly we can do it,” she said.

At the weekend, President Cyril Ramaphosa requested the country to remain patient as people would eventually receive the vaccine jab. So far, more than 180,000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated.

A further 66,000 Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine doses arrived in the country on Saturday.

Government has also secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine but their arrival date has yet to be disclosed.

But it would take less than the calculated 17 years vaccination rate for two-thirds of the population to get infected.

Barnes said the country could expect more than a third or fourth wave, which would be catastrophic to the healthcare system.

“It won’t take long. [Infections] snowball and accelerate. The more people are ill, the more they pass it on… We won’t be able to care for them. Even if it only takes a year, or two-thirds that want to get herd immunity from, even if it is over a year, it’s a massive number of people and we won’t be able to cope. That is not a realistic hope. I would dreadfully not want to end up in that position,” said Barnes.

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