Johannesburg: The current COVID-19 crisis of a huge number of daily infections in India is something that has already happened elsewhere in the world, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said here.
The minister appeared on the national public broadcaster, SABC, on Monday morning, where he was asked why the extensive vaccination programme in India had not stopped the current surge.
“Different countries have had the same experience. While they are going through the vaccination, the next wave was coming through so you cannot necessarily say that the vaccination will stop it,” Mkhize said.
“Many countries have gone through what India is going through – the UK and countries in Europe had exactly the same problem,” he added.
“What we have learnt from our side is that we went through the second wave without any vaccines and we managed to get our numbers down because of our precautionary measures (of masks and social distancing),” the minister said.
And these measures have to be intensified so that whenever the next wave hits, the situation does not get out of hands, he added. “Vaccinations will be going on throughout the year, so we will still be getting the outbreaks and hotspots here and there – that will be part of the way we will live for the rest of this year,” the minister said.
“Only when we have vaccinated the majority of the people will we start to see it receding,” he added. Mkhize also announced that South Africa would be resuming on Wednesday the Johnson and Johnson vaccine trial programme. The programme was suspended a fortnight ago, as was the case in many other countries after cases of blood clots in eight women were reported.
Mkhize said the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) had now reviewed all the reports and recommendations on what was happening all over the world and decided that South Africa should resume the vaccination. SAHPRA has recommended that pregnant and lactating women be excluded from the vaccination programme at this stage.
“Those continuing with the programme will have to sign a consent but they will also be given additional information about what precautions to take, what symptoms to look out for, and if there is anything suspicious, to get medical attention,” the health minister said.
Mkhize said the American studies had shown the risk to be one in a million, which made it very low compared to the rates of infection. Around 3,00,000 healthcare workers had already been vaccinated before the programme was suspended. A further 200,000 are expected to be vaccinated within the next week or two, he said.
“We have to clear the rest of the health workers and then get to the rest of the public. We must move up to about 5.5 million to be vaccinated (who are) over 50 years (of age) very quickly,” the minister said. More than 600,000 people have already registered on the electronic date system that has been set up to prioritise vaccination sites across the country as speedily as possible.