- The department has opened up the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine for the 12 to 17 age group.
- The move is motivated by increased infections driven by Omicron in this age group.
- Next year, the department will review whether vaccination should become part of the school health programme.
The national Department of Health on Thursday confirmed that children aged 12 to 17 will be eligible for a second dose of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine.
"The department has opened the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) for the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine for the 12 to 17 age group this morning (Thursday). The SMS messages have been sent to those who qualify for their second vaccination," a statement from the department read.
Initially, this age group was designated for one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, but increased infections driven by the Omicron variant had pushed the government to rethink its strategy, said Dr Nicholas Crisp, Deputy Director-General of Health.
Crisp spoke on Wednesday at the International Conference on Aids and STIs in Africa (ICASA).
"So, in the 12 to 17 [age group] you can see that there were just under 600 000 vaccinated since we started on the eighth of October with this group. And it's not too bad, but we're only getting one dose to this population group at the moment.
"We will start even later this week with a second dose to this group, [who has been shown to be] more vulnerable now with this new variant than they were with the previous variants.
"And you can see now since the exams are over for some of these youngsters, the numbers have increased quite dramatically," Crisp said.
'A move towards herd immunity'
Technical Director of Health Programmes at Wits RHI Dr Gloria Maimela, who chaired the session, welcomed the move by the department.
"As South Africa strives towards reaching the targeted 70% herd immunity through increased Covid-19 vaccination coverage, we welcome the news of children aged 12 to 17 years being included in the vaccination programme and given two doses," Maimela said.
"Not only will including children greatly assist towards reaching this target, but it will also protect them and mitigate ongoing transmission from children to vulnerable people they may be in contact with.
"Emerging data is showing that children and young people are mostly affected by the new Omicron variant, although thankfully, still presenting with mild disease.
"This announcement has definitely come at the right time," added Maimela.
Maimela said vaccinating this age group will go a long way towards minimising future school disruptions.
In a memo seen by Health24, Crisp was quoted as saying that they were not encouraging any Covid-19 vaccinations at schools as part of the school health programme yet.
This will be reviewed next year.