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The Big Story: SA Vaccine Rollout Demystified

We know we spoke about this last week, but there still seems to be some confusion over what’s happening with SA’s vaccine rollout strategy. 

Here are the answers to some of the most common questions and misunderstandings.

◾️_“Government bungled the acquisition of vaccines and that’s why we’re behind THE ENTIRE WORLD.”_

SA authorities were slow to the party, true, but there are many other factors at play: unequal access to vaccines is a global issue, with developed countries hoarding the lot. Most developing countries were only able to start roll-outs in March.

◾️_“SA is far behind on its rollout plans.”_

This one is true. The initial plan was to inoculate South Africa’s 1.5 million health workers by the end of March, but the AstraZeneca vaccine we purchased was shown to be of limited use against the dominant local variant. It would have been a huge risk to go ahead and roll it out anyway. 

◾️_“Phase 1 of the rollout has been a mess.”_

What is often misunderstood, probably because of government’s waffled communication, is that the current “rollout” phase 1 isn’t really a full rollout: it is part of the clinical trial phase – a study. 

Given that it’s a test, the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines used in the study arrived in batches of 80 000 about every two weeks. This, of course, limits the rollout. The full rollout will have millions of vaccines and thousands of rollout sites are planned. 

◾️_“We’ll never get enough vaccines.”_

This week Ramaphosa said that, in addition to the 11 million J&J vaccines already procured, another 20 million J&J doses have been secured, along with 20 million more from Pfizer. Negotiations are underway to procure other vaccines, including Russia’s Sputnik V. Countries in the developed world will soon hit a surplus of vaccines, given that they procured more than their populations needed, and we’ll benefit from that. 

There’s light at the end of the tunnel.