Age requirements adjustment for vaccine encouraged vulnerable groups to get the jab - experts
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Johannesburg - The South African Vaccination and Immunisation Centre (Savic) said the adjustment of requirements for over 60s to register for the Covid-19 vaccine may have turned the tide in getting this vulnerable group to sign up in greater numbers.
In the last 48 hours the National Health Department recorded more than 27 500 new vaccine registrations in the over 60s age category.
At the start of the vaccine rollout, this age group showed the least enthusiasm to vaccinate but the latest figures indicate that many people in this category have had a change of heart.
Savic deputy head Dr Andrew Musyoki said the requirement to have a smartphone and be savvy enough on the gadget proved a challenge as fewer than the expected number of individuals in this age category had registered to get vaccinated.
He added that the decision to allow walk-ins also encouraged the elderly to access vaccination sites and greatly improved the total number registered and vaccinated.
“The majority of South Africans have been willing to get vaccinated. The major hindrance was access. With improved access both through allowing for walk-ins and more age groups now being part of those allowed to register and be vaccinated, the numbers have improved,” he said.
Musyoki added that with the global number of vaccines administered standing at more than 3 billion, most of the anxiety around the Covid-19 vaccines has subsided.
“With the new data clearly showing the risk of hospitalisation and death to the unvaccinated as opposed to the vaccinated, there is now even more reason to be vaccinated. Most high-income countries that succeeded in achieving high vaccine coverage have been able to relax the strict measures imposed to curb the spread of SARS-CoV-2,” said Musyoki.
According to a report released by pharmaceutical giant Pfizer, prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, adults faced a 200% higher mortality rate from vaccine-preventable deaths compared to children.
Our immune systems decrease when we are older which makes adults more susceptible to getting diseases. The Pneumococcal Conjugate Vaccine (PCV), which has been available in South Africa since 2009 has protected adults living with HIV, those that are immuno-compromised, those over 65, smokers, and people with heart and lung diseases as well as diabetes.
It’s against this backdrop that the National Health Department said it’s encouraged by the spike in vaccine registrations in the country across all age groups. The department recorded more than 25 000 new registrations in the 50-59 age category and more than 84 600 registrations in the 35-49 category. Gauteng leads the race in vaccine registrations across all age categories.
Medical Manager for Vaccines at Pfizer South Africa, Dr Thulani Mhlanga warned that adults may have missed being administered a certain vaccine as a child or may be more susceptible to contracting a vaccine-preventable disease for reasons such as being immuno-compromised or living with a chronic illness.
“Vaccines like PCV are crucial as we believe that the only sustainable response to possible infection is prevention. Not only is it important for adults to be vaccinated from a health perspective, it can have a positive impact on local social and economic developments whilst also having a beneficial ripple effect on the adult’s family, community, and country,” he said.
Mhlanga pointed out that Covid-19 had shone a spotlight on the need for countries to have vaccine manufacturing capacity to improve access and affordability. Being able to manufacture vaccines locally had a positive impact on costs, security of supply, production control and socio-economic development.
“To improve and create access to PCV, Pfizer entered into a public private partnership (PPP) with the Biovac Institute and the Department of Health in 2015 to manufacture PCV locally as part of the country’s expanded programme on immunisation (EPI). The EPI is one of the most comprehensive programmes of its type on the continent. In addition to its manufacturing and delivery of life-saving vaccines, Biovac plays a critical role in the economy.
“It is the only Southern African human vaccine manufacturer, ensuring the country has the required domestic capacity to respond to both local and regional vaccine needs. Biovac demonstrates just how powerful and efficiently run PPP can be, especially one that ensures the survival and health outcomes of the country’s most important assets, its people,” Mhlanga said.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed vaccine hesitancy and vaccine rejection as a top 10 global health threat. Many factors influence the successful implementation of adult immunisation including the availability of evidence and policies, political and public health will, funding, monitoring, ease of access, and communication.
Mhlanga said many countries did not have the data and capacity for evidence-based decision-making around adult immunisation, lacking data, policies, and expertise on issues impacting older adults, and political will and resources. Others may not have systems to reach older adults with vaccines or have systems that were so fragmented that opportunities were missed to recommend vaccines.
"We knew early on that a safe and effective vaccine would be essential to ending the pandemic. So, we combined our industry-leading vaccine development, manufacturing and distribution capabilities with BioNTech’s expertise in innovative mRNA technologies to quickly develop, manufacture and distribute large quantities of high-quality Covid-19 vaccines. Given the urgency of the situation, Pfizer self-funded more than $2 billion at risk to run clinical development and manufacturing processes in parallel and at scale. Collaborating closely with regulatory and health authorities around the world, including the EMA in Europe, we compressed time lines that typically take years into months, and those that take months into weeks,” he said.
According to the latest statistics from the Health Department, more than 6 million vaccines have been administered across the country; there are currently more than 2.3 million positive cases and 68 625 South Africans have lost their lives.
Health Department spokesperson Popo Maja said they were delighted with the latest registration increases.
“The figures are really encouraging. They also put an end to conspiracy theories about the effectiveness of vaccines,” Maja said.