Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla explained on Friday that health department authorities are strengthening the use of data to identify areas of low Covid-19 vaccination coverage to ensure resources are rolled out appropriately.
Phaahla said the department’s statistics showed a very slow uptake of Covid-19 vaccinations since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions two months ago, following a decrease in infections, high levels of population immunity and sustained decoupling of rates of infection and severe illness.
Since the lifting of Covid-19 restrictions, tests, cases, hospitalisations and deaths have continued to decline.
Phaahla explained that the strategies for improving coverage included providing Covid-19 vaccinations through routine health services, supplemented by outreach services in schools, congregate settings, workplaces, and areas with low coverage, with a focus on priority districts, as well as ongoing demand generation, with an emphasis on social mobilisation.
He said the department’s target of vaccinating 70% of its adult population, ideally in each district of each province, remained.
He said while this was logistically possible, he pointed out that for some time the challenge had been limited demand for vaccines despite coverage of just over 50% amongst adults. He attributed this low demand to Covid fatigue, vaccine hesitancy and practical barriers to accessing vaccines for some individuals and groups.
As of Wednesday, 37 343 941 Covid-19 doses had been administered. A total of 20 307 956 adults are now vaccinated, which is 51.03% of the population aged 18 and over.
Phaahla said it was especially pleasing that 71.42% of the population aged 60 and over had been vaccinated.
Other age groups are less well covered. Adults between 50 and 69 years are at 66.68% coverage, adults between 35 and 49 years are at 54.76% and adults between 18 and 34 years are at 38.01%.
Phaahla explained that adults aged 50 and older were eligible to receive four vaccine doses, 18- to 49-year olds are eligible to receive three doses and those aged between 12 and 17 years are eligible to receive two doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
He said the department was pleased that people were still seeking vaccination, both those who were coming for first doses and those who were returning for boosters.
“I wish to stress that Covid-19 has not disappeared and that vaccination is still strongly advised. Vaccination is still the best way to ensure immunity and prevent severe infections,” he stressed.
Last week the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines recommended that children aged five to 11 years and who are at risk of severe Covid-19 disease should be offered vaccination.
Phaahla explained that vaccination of healthy children in this age group was not recommended for now, saying there were a number of logistical issues that must be addressed before vaccination of this age group was implemented.