We will be lucky if we vaccinate 2% of our population

GIVEN the slow pace at which South Africa’s mass vaccination campaign has been rolled out — as yet, not one confirmed public vaccination has been administered — claims by government that 10% of the population, including the vulnerable and front-line workers will receive the jab, must be met with a good degree of scepticism.

We will be lucky if we manage to vaccinate some 2% of our citizens over the coming six months, that’s 1 140 000 or just over 1 million individuals. The recent comments made by the Chief Justice may have already torpedoed the public Covax Initiative.

In the week in which a new more virulent local variant of the virus was announced by Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, with its origin in Nelson Mandela Bay, the country finally paid over its contribution to the UN programme, yet another example of what Dr Carl Venter terms a ‘poor handling of the crisis’.

Health activists had thus already expressed concern that South Africa had missed the deadline, and all this while images of the West’s immunisation campaign already under way were being streamed over our television screens, a local wait-and-see approach if any.

Meanwhile the health system in several provinces was under severe pressure, with no plans in sight to alleviate the lack of oxygen, PPE and high care facilities over the New Year period. Local press appeared unable to present the problematic second wave and our failing vaccination programme in any frame except, ‘we’ve been here already, and don’t want another hard lock-down’.

Readers would have had to find information on the collapse of health care services and lack of critical care in Nelson Mandela Bay, not from the local press, but rather from the New York Times, whose Sheri Fink reported this week on a tragedy unfolding in Port Elizabeth, and thus a troubling lack of credible information from local media houses.

A situation of self-censorship which has its echo in previous fumbling by the Mbeki administration over ARVs and the earlier Botha regime which suppressed news about the SADF invasion of Angola and death toll at Cuito Cuanavale?

While government was announcing it had identified the 501.V2 Variant, Minister Mkhize was thus bizarrely playing down the implications of a sudden shift in the epidemiological picture as the demure Prof Karim continued to spew forth scientific opinion with little impact on the reality and lives of health care workers.

“Clinicians, said Karim “have been providing anecdotal evidence of a shift in the clinical epidemiological picture – in particular noting that they are seeing a larger proportion of younger patients with no co-morbidities presenting with critical illness,” he said.

If Fink’s observations as a journalist are mere anecdotes, then much of what passes for press commentary in the republic is a fraud.

Let her words below sink in, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to observe the virus isn’t any more deadly, it is rather, more pernicious and disruptive to our health sector:

“At the center of a terrifying coronavirus surge, 242 patients lay in row after row of beds under the soaring metal beams of a decommissioned Volkswagen factory.”

“Workers at the vast field hospital could provide oxygen and medications, but there were no I.C.U. beds, no ventilators, no working phones and just one physician on duty on a recent Sunday — Dr. Jessica Du Preez, in her second year of independent practice.”

“In a shed-like refrigerator behind a door marked “BODY HOLD,” carts contained the remains of three patients that morning. A funeral home had already picked up another body.”

“On rounds, Dr. Du Preez stopped at the bed of a 60-year-old patient, a grandmother and former college counselor. Her oxygen tube had detached while she was lying prone, but the nurses had so many patients they hadn’t noticed. Now, she was gone.”

That medics are having to prioritise who gets treatment while denying others, according to a score card, is a tragedy being repeated all around the world.