Vaccine hesitation scuppers Health Dept's December herd immunity target

There were high hopes just a few months ago that 70% of the population would be vaccinated by Christmas but in spite of a healthy supply of doses, people just didn't show up in their numbers to take them.

FILE: An Education Department employee gets a COVID-19 vaccine shot at the Rabasotho community hall in Tembisa on 23 June 2021. Picture: Xanderleigh Dookey Makhaza/Eyewitness News

JOHANNESBURG - The Health Department is still holding out hope for a quicker vaccine uptake across the nation as 2022 dawns.

There were high hopes just a few months ago that 70% of the population would be vaccinated by Christmas but in spite of a healthy supply of doses, people just didn't show up in their numbers to take them.

The year ended with just under 28 million jabs being administered but many people still need to go and get their second Pfizer shots.

The first million AstraZeneca vaccines arrived in South Africa in February - it was a moment of celebration but it was short-lived.

Just days later, the Health Department announced that the first COVID-19 vaccines wouldn't be used as early data revealed that they offered "minimal protection" against mild infections of the virus.

But by the middle of that month, the vaccination programme was on track again, with healthcare workers embarking on the first phase under the Johnson & Johnson Sisonke trial.

"I think we just need to suspend the use of AstraZeneca a bit, investigate it more fully," the Health Department's Dr Nicholas Crisp said.

By 17 May, then-Health Minister Zweli Mkhize was officially launching phase two, opening mass vaccination sites for those over 60.

"Five million senior citizens are targeted to be complicit by end of June, provided there's the supply of vaccines flows as anticipated," Mkhize said.

A few weeks later, and with Mkhize on special leave amidst PPE corruption allegations, that target had not been met.

In August, Mkhize resigned and with dwindling public confidence, the Health Department pushed through with the target to get 70% of the adult population inoculated by December.

Dr Nicholas Crisp tried his best to encourage people to get vaccinated.

"And we want to caution people once the 18-34-year-old age group arrive, they will come in numbers, I am sure," he said.

But after a strong start, it turned out that young people were in fact more hesitant to getting vaccinated than any other age groups.

The Health Department said that there were a number of factors that contributed to the slow uptake in vaccines and is acknowledging that a lack of trust in government also contributed.