CHICAGO, Illinois — South Africa is the most discussed African country in the fight against COVID-19. While Africa has mostly stayed out of pandemic headlines relative to other regions, South Africa is an exception. The country has been the source of a new variant of the virus and has had the most cases out of all African countries. South Africa’s issues with COVID-19 can be attributed to its relatively high population, interconnectedness and urbanization. The country has begun its campaign to vaccinate the South African population. The vaccine rollout in South Africa has made the country one of the leading African countries in vaccinations.
COVID-19 Cases in South Africa
The vaccine rollout in South Africa has faced several issues, which are emblematic of the struggles middle and low-income countries face in the effort to secure and administer vaccines. While high-income countries stockpile vaccines, countries like South Africa are left needing more. South Africa is doing the best it can, despite the challenges. As of June 28, 2021, South Africa has recorded more than 1.9 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 60,000 deaths. These statistics are the highest in Africa in both categories.
South Africa has administered a total of 2.55 million doses of the vaccine to its population as of June 24, 2021. Additionally, around 0.81% of the population is fully vaccinated and 3.5% has received one dose. The vaccine rollout in South Africa has been a victim of bad luck from the beginning. The dominant, fast-spreading variant discovered in the country has proven resistant to some vaccines, especially the AstraZeneca shot. This was very unfortunate timing as South Africa had already secured millions of doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine just before finding out it was ineffective against the variant. South Africa also relies heavily on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. However, the distribution of Johnson & Johnson was temporarily halted due to concerns over blood clots. Although this distribution has resumed, these setbacks have greatly disrupted the vaccine rollout.
Commitment to Produce Vaccines
Due to the unequal abilities of countries around the world to secure vaccines, South Africa has struggled to get enough doses. The country has some capability to produce vaccines in order to address vaccine setbacks, but this option has not been utilized to its full capacity. Aspen Pharmacare, a South African company, has committed to producing 200 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Half of these single-dose vaccines will go to the African Union for distribution to other countries and 31 million vaccines are set to be distributed within South Africa. Furthermore, South Africa has benefited from the global COVAX initiative, which has helped the country secure significant amounts of Pfizer doses.
Plan for Vaccine Rollout
The vaccine rollout in South Africa entails a simple and clear strategy although it will take a while to complete. Until May 17, 2021, the vaccine was only available to healthcare workers and first responders. However, after this date, vaccinations opened to people older than 60 and those with serious health problems. This phase is estimated to take months, while the final phase is anticipated to begin in November. The last phase in November includes the entire general population.
There have been several concerns about the speed and effectiveness of the vaccine rollout in South Africa, but the country continues to face numerous challenges that higher-income countries avoid. The country has set a modest goal of vaccinating 67% of its population by the end of 2021. Even so, this would be a significant achievement considering all the setbacks the country faces. While South Africa is a victim of vaccine inequity, its resilience in the face of the pandemic is admirable.
– Clay Hallee