Government scrambles to reach vaccination target before holidays

Johannesburg – The government is scrambling to get as many people as possible vaccinated in the next two weeks, particularly the 4-million who are 50 years and older who have not taken the jab yet.

This Vooma Week, which started on Friday and ends next Friday, the government has targeted to jab at least 1-million more people, with monetary incentives for those aged 50 and above for getting their first jab.

South Africa has experienced a rise in Covid-19 infections since the discovery of the Omicron variant, with Gauteng being the epicentre of the surge.

Gauteng was also the hotspot for the previous three waves.

Nearly 1-million people in the province have tested positive for the virus, constituting 32% of the national rate.

On Friday, Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla confirmed South Africa had officially entered the fourth wave, with more cases reported in nine provinces The World Health Organisation (WHO) on Friday said it was deploying a surge team to Gauteng to support “surveillance, contact tracing, infection prevention and treatment measures”.

“The combination of low vaccination rates, the continued spread of the virus and mutations are a toxic mix. The Omicron variant is a wake-up call that the Covid-19 threat is real.

With improved supplies of vaccines, African countries should widen vaccination coverage to provide greater protection to the population,” Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO regional director for Africa, said.

WHO also said the Omicron variant,  which was first detected in South Africa and Botswana, had a high number of mutations (32) in its spike protein, and “preliminary evidence suggests an increased risk of reinfection when compared with other variants of concern”.

More than 20 countries have detected the variant to date.

However, South Africa and Botswana account for 62% of the cases reported globally.

The number of people who have died from Covid-19 in South Africa since the outbreak of the virus in March last year is nearing 90 000.

Professor Felicity Burt, an expert in arbovirology in the division of virology at the University of the Free State and the National Health Laboratory Service, said with each new variant, the public health concerns were dependent on the ability of the virus to escape
immunity from natural infection or from vaccination.

“We know with certainty that vaccination has reduced the severity of illness and death with previous variants, even in the face of reduced neutralising ability, there was sufficient protection.

“Globally, the impact of vaccination is evident in countries experiencing fourth waves. Vaccines definitely boost waning immune responses from natural infection,” she said.

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