How SA can stave off a severe Covid-19 fourth wave
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Cape Town – The National Coronavirus Command Council expects the fourth wave to hit South Africa between November and January.
For Jonny Myers, Emeritus Professor in Public Health Medicine at UCT, the number one priority over the next two months should be to drastically ramp up vaccination coverage of the over-50s.
He told Cape Talk that if we can get 90% plus of the over-50s vaccinated, there will not be a fourth wave of deaths. Myers noted that while the number of cases would rise during a fourth wave, this will not be the case when it comes to the number of deaths, severe illness and hospitalisations.
In July, Myers had told the Mail & Guardian that while responding to the third wave is critical, it was equally important to prepare for the fourth wave.
“It’s not one or the other. Hospital preparation responds to the third wave and vaccination to the fourth one,” said Myers.
Myers regards a lack of access to vaccines a far bigger obstacle than vaccine hesitancy, with those who are very poor struggling to make it to vaccination centres. He said proposals are being put forward at a National Department of Health level to try to obtain funding to provide people with vouchers.
’’The voucher would enable people to receive an amount of money after the vaccination to reimburse them for the real costs of travelling and their time and inconvenience, probably in the form of grocery vouchers,’’ said Myers.
Writing in the Daily Maverick this week, Myers said: ’’Data from the Western Cape show that 30% of the recorded Covid-19 cases were aged over 50 and these cases were responsible for 60% of hospitalisations.
’’Vaccination strategies need to take this into account. The experience of the third wave, as for prior waves, has been brutal.’’
Myers added: ’’We hear a lot of talk about a national target of vaccinating around 70% of the adult population (over 18) to mitigate the damage from a fourth wave.
’’But is this the appropriate target at this stage? Is it achievable before early January? At the present rate of vaccination (142 000 daily averaged over October), reaching 70% will take about 100 vaccination days. We don’t have time to reach this target...
’’To date, only 61% of the over-50s have been fully vaccinated in South Africa. The coverage for the different provinces ranges from 47% to 72%.
’’This is not high enough to prevent a severe fourth wave in this highly vulnerable demographic. We should be aiming at a goal of 90% or more for this group.’’
Western Cape Health Department spokesperson Maret Lesch told the Cape Argus last month that we ’’must ensure the next most vulnerable group, those 50 to 59 years old, also get similar vaccination coverage to those aged 60 and older’’.
“Vaccination remains voluntary, but it is our responsibility to ensure we save as many lives as possible before the end of the year. This is a key period now, in between waves, so we can ensure these citizens are vaccinated before the anticipated fourth wave hits in December.”