Younger medical scheme members still wary of the jab, Afrocentric data shows

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Afrocentic says Medschemes' data shows that only the age group over 60 has more than half of its medical scheme members vaccinated.
Afrocentic says Medschemes' data shows that only the age group over 60 has more than half of its medical scheme members vaccinated.
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  • The owner of Medscheme says its data shows that only 27% of people between 50 and 59 have been vaccinated.
  • This decreases to 25% for the 35 to 49 age group and 10% for 18 to 34.
  • However, data for members who were vaccinated at public sector sites is still outstanding.

More than half the medical aid members aged over 60 in the schemes it administers are vaccinated, says Medscheme owner Afrocentric. But among younger members, less than a third had been vaccinated at the beginning of September. 

According to the data Afrocentric has to date, a total of 56% of people aged over 60 were vaccinated, compared to 27% for people aged 50 to 59, 25% for 35 to 49, and 10% aged 18 to 34. 

However, Afrocentric Group CEO Ahmed Banderker said these statistics were still missing data from medical aid members who vaccinate at public sector sites. He anticipated that the group would start getting more accurate statistics by mid-October. But the numbers might not move much, as country-level statistics announced recently by President Cyril Ramaphosa showed that just over seven million people had been fully vaccinated.

Medscheme administers some of the biggest medical schemes in SA, including Bonitas, the Government Employees' Medical Scheme, Polmed and Fedhealth.

Banderker said the healthcare group finds it difficult to understand what drives this lower take-up of vaccines. But he thinks that vaccination hesitancy will start to decline as people learn more about the perceived side effects of the vaccines and see vaccinated people close to them live their lives a bit more freely.

"The anti-vax drive, in my perspective, appears to be dying. That proportion should be getting smaller and smaller as more and more people see the results on how the vaccine is worth it. They've seen that the third wave has resulted in much fewer healthcare workers with severe disease," said Banderker.

He said another problem Afrocentric is picking up with the low vaccine uptake is access in the outlying rural areas, especially since people initially had to register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) system first.

However, while hoping that more anti-vaxxers will change their minds, Afrocentric, which runs its own six vaccination sites across the country, has also noticed that many vaccination sites now stand empty for most of the day in the urban areas.

With the public vaccinations reaching a plateau, the group is shifting its focus to employer-led vaccinations. So, it will go to companies who want to vaccinate their staff in the workplace, whether they use one of the medical schemes administered by Afrocentric or not.

No mandatory vaccination plan, yet

Although it was classified as an essential healthcare provider and had access to Covid-19 vaccines as early as when healthcare workers started getting their jabs through the Sisonke trial, Afrocentric said only about half of its staff is fully vaccinated.

Banderker said the company is still working on its "return-to-work" policies that it will implement next year. One of the questions it is yet to answer is how to deal with unvaccinated staff. But he said with close to 50% of staff now vaccinated, the policy that the group ultimately adopts will consider that it won't take much effort to get to herd immunity in the workforce.

"Do we want to compel people to take the vaccine? To be able to come up with all of those policies and answers, we want to engage with some of our stakeholders, which includes both staff as well as trade unions," he said.

Banderker said he would like to see all staff vaccinated as the company has to head the changes brought by the Occupational Health and Safety Act gazette in June. The gazette compels employers to create a safe workplace for their employees. 

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