Last week, I had a chance to meet some of the heroes on the frontline of our fight against COVID-19 when I visited two vaccination sites in Tembisa and Midrand. These heroes include the health workers administering the vaccines and the many South Africans who are coming forward to be vaccinated and thereby safeguard the health of the nation.
The number of vaccinations administered in South Africa has now passed the 7.5 million mark. Around three million people are fully vaccinated. At the present rate, we are vaccinating on average 220,000 people a day. In the coming weeks, this rate will increase significantly due to the arrival of more vaccine doses.
Nearly 1.5 million single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccines have been handed to the Department of Health in the last couple of days. Over the past weekend, a donation of 5.66 million Pfizer vaccines from the USA government began arriving in the country. This is part of a donation of vaccines from the United States to African countries and low- and middle-income countries in other parts of the world.
Our country is also making history. The first COVID-19 vaccines produced in Africa, for Africa, were released by Aspen Pharmacare from its flagship manufacturing plant in Gqeberha last week. These vaccines will be made available to the rest of the continent through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, which we set up during our tenure as African Union chair.
Thanks to the efforts of all involved in the multisectoral vaccine acquisition response, we now have a comfortable supply of stocks to vaccinate our population.
The two vaccination sites I visited are among an estimated 3,000 vaccination sites we have set up in the country. These sites are currently providing vaccines to any person above the age of 35, healthcare workers, and employees in participating workplaces.
To meet demand, several sites around the country are now operating on weekends, and many innovations – like vaccination drive-throughs and mobile vaccination units – are in operation.
One of the two vaccination sites I visited is run by the private sector in partnership with government and the other is run by the government, yet both facilities had similar levels of excellent service and professionalism.
Our private sector, including medical schemes, has worked alongside government from the onset of the pandemic, helping to mobilise resources and, most recently, helping us meet our national vaccination targets.
At the Rabasotho Community Centre in Tembisa, I saw government’s Batho Pele principles in action.
The process was efficient and streamlined: from the COVID-19 Vaccination Card people are issued with to help them keep track of their doses, to data-capturing stations, to observation stations with doctors on standby for those who have just received their jab. Importantly, the site has an information area where those presenting for vaccination are given clear information in their own language on the different vaccine options available.
We spoke with Mama Rosemary Mabaso, 67, who had come for her second dose. She said that the staff at the centre had treated her with the utmost care and courtesy and helped allay her initial fears of getting vaccinated.
I am encouraged that so many South Africans accept the need to be vaccinated. The latest National Income Dynamics Study (NIDS) Coronavirus Rapid Mobile Survey (CRAM) found that there is increased public openness to accepting a COVID-19 vaccine. Only 1 in 10 South Africans believe that COVID-19 vaccines are unsafe.
The Mathebulas, a couple from Tembisa who had come to the centre together to get vaccinated, told us that they were initially hesitant ‘because of negative stories going around,’ but had decided to follow government’s advice to get vaccinated.
Such expressions of confidence are greatly encouraging, as are the words of Mama Mabasa, who said: “I want to tell everyone out there is no need to be scared; this vaccine is safe, and it is helping us.”
Indeed, vaccines are safe. They are our best protection against this disease and the national vaccination programme is our surest guarantee of a swift health and economic recovery.
I want to encourage South Africans to continue to follow the guidance of the World Health Organisation and our Department of Health around COVID-19 vaccines. We need to avoid spreading misleading and false information that can cause confusion.
As we work to vaccinate as many people as possible by end of the year, we salute the officials, healthcare workers and staff of the vaccination centres who are working tirelessly to support the national effort.
But by far, the greatest heroes are the South African people, of whose resilience and steadfastness I remain in awe.
Over a year and a half, we have experienced a deadly pandemic, severe economic and social hardship, and recently, serious unrest wrought by those who want to see our country fail.
By going out and getting vaccinated, we aren’t just protecting ourselves. We are performing a patriotic duty to our country and our fellow citizens.
In this great race to preserve human life, let us continue to work together in the interests of the health and welfare of our nation. In this way, we will ensure that recovery is certain.