- South Africa had more than 16 million Covid vaccine shots that are still unused.
- The government says the shots are aimed at certain target groups.
- Experts are confident that collaborative efforts can increase vaccination demand.
The SA National Department of Health announced this week that more than 16 million Covid-19 doses have not yet been dispensed.
During a briefing on Thursday afternoon, Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general of the department, announced that more vaccine doses are arriving this week.
"We have 16-and-a-half million doses of vaccines in the country at the moment. Most of that is in a range of central stores. But we are also expecting about two-and-a-half million further doses to be delivered this week. We are, in fact, getting in vaccines faster than we are using them at the moment," Crisp said.
According to a Reuters report, the government has asked vaccine manufacturing companies – Pfizer and J&J – to halt the delivery of new vaccines as South Africa has enough stock for at least 158 days.
"We have been deferring our deliveries – not decreasing our orders, just deferring our deliveries – so we don't stockpile and accumulate vaccines, that, number one, become a risk for us to manage, and number two… there are other countries, particularly in Africa, who need vaccines as well, and the more we can make available, into the flow of vaccines, into those countries, the better it is for us," said Crisp.
While only reaching half of the population the department had intended to vaccinate by this time, the department is adamant that the doses will be used as part of the vaccination programme despite the low turnout.
'Sufficient doesn't mean excess'
Health department spokesperson Foster Mohale told Health24 that the unused stock cannot be classified as excess.
"Sufficient doesn't mean excess. Based on the size of the population we are targeting with these vaccine doses, this is not excess," he said.
He continued: "Do you call these excess vaccines when less than 50% of the adult population is yet to get vaccinated. The current stock is sufficient based on the average daily uptake. If 90% of the unvaccinated target population were to come forward within a month, these vaccines might not be sufficient."
But the fact remains that there is an oversupply for a dwindling demand, which means that the rate of vaccination in South Africa needs to be ramped up.
The health department says that it will create demand for its targeted vaccine population but has not said how. Currently, the department is running an incentive programme for every person 50 years and older – who will automatically get a R100 voucher after getting their first Covid-19 jab.
Infectious disease expert Prof Francios Venter says that incentives can work to get vaccines into arms.
"Why not start with heavily incentivising those over 60 by doubling their pension? Give them a huge discount on their groceries." he suggests.
Venter added that the key to creating demand is asking why two-thirds of South Africans are still unvaccinated.
'We need a united front'
Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Research & Innovation at the University of KwaZulu Natal Mosa Moshabela, says that information, trust and leadership are the key elements needed to create demand.
Moshabela explains that it is not only the responsibility of the Department of Health to help create demand for vaccination.
"We've seen vaccine acceptance been decided by political party and religious allegiances. We need a united front in the information on the vaccine. I can't think of any better way to counter misinformation and to build trust. Information is out there, but people need to get it from people they trust, like leaders," he says.