Although Covid-19 vaccinations of people between the ages of 35 and 49 were only set to start in August, many in this age group have already received their first jab since registrations on the electronic vaccine data system (EVDS) for their cohort were opened last week.
The EVDS automatically schedules a vaccination appointment at a site in your vicinity when you register on the system. The appointment is communicated via SMS containing the date and location.
However, after the government opened the EVDS for people over the age of 35, many people in the 35–49 age group managed to get their first dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine within hours of registering.
Some reported that they visited a private vaccination site — such as those run by Dis-Chem — to get their shot.
Dis-Chem and Discovery also opened appointment booking dates for people over the age of 35 on Thursday. Numerous slots were already available to this age group last week.
Some have accused people over 35 of “jumping the queue” to the detriment of the older 50+ and 60+ age groups who were yet to receive either their first or second shots.
The Western Cape has urged people in the 35-49 age group to wait for their appointment SMS, as many people over the age of 50 still had to be vaccinated.
Deputy-director general Nicholas Crisp told MyBroadband that some private providers initially succeeded in scheduling people under 50 on their own systems.
“This was terminated to be on par with the EVDS official registration and scheduling,” Crisp said.
“Some people under 50 just took a chance and walked into a vaccination site. Some were lucky that the vaccine was available, but many were not.”
“The department is not in a position to stop the practice of early walk-ins but has stopped early scheduling,” he added.
While some people may be concerned about getting their first shot before the more vulnerable elderly population, there is nothing untoward about the situation.
The department allows vaccination sites to use their own judgement to decide whether to administer shots without appointments if they have enough vaccines.
Dis-Chem told MyBroadband that official circulars from the department supported the vaccination of all registered individuals above 50 from 1 July, even though this cohort was only due to start getting vaccinations from 15 July.
“As such, with the opening of over-50s on 1 July, registered individuals became aware that it was possible to be vaccinated on a walk-in basis immediately, without the need to wait for an appointment,” Dis-Chem stated.
“With the knowledge from the over-50s opening widely known across the country, the same behaviour was bound to occur amongst a far more tech-savvy and larger grouping.”
“When EVDS registration opened to the 35+ cohort, registrations in the first 24-hours once again far exceeded the daily capacity,” the company said.
In light of the rapid rate of EVDS registration with the 35–49 age group, Dis-Chem called for the dates of registration and eligibility to be aligned.
“The greater number of people who are vaccinated, the sooner South Africa will be able to return to normality, and Dis-Chem is committed to vaccinating as many eligible people as possible.”
Although South Africa’s vaccination rollout has picked up the pace in recent weeks, it is still slow.
According to the latest information from the health department, over 5.3 million South Africans had received at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine by Monday, 19 July 2021.
The cumulative number of people in the country who were fully vaccinated was far lower — at around 1.8 million.
This means that only about 4.5% of the 40 million adults being targeted for vaccination by the end of the year have received all their shots so far.
If the government’s target to achieve herd immunity is not reached, South Africa could be dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic and lockdowns for a long time.
Vaccination sites can assess their appointment schedule, and if they have enough stock set aside, they may inoculate walk-ins younger than 50 (but over the age of 35).
The Department of Health recommends that sites manage separate queues for walk-ins and those with an appointment.
This allows sites to prioritise people with appointments and those going for their second shot. Walk-ins should therefore not cause any delays for those who waited for their appointments.
While some may still be concerned that this would lead to a shortage of second shots, South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccine supplies look healthy.
Crisp said that there was enough stock to ensure that the older groups would get their second shots.
“The delivery dates are not fixed in stone, but the supply of vaccines has been secured until year-end,” Crisp said.
According to the health department, based on vaccination rates, the country had 18 days of stock of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine by 9 July 2021.
The Pfizer-BioNTech shot is the main vaccine being used for the general population in South Africa.
South Africa had received a total of around 4.5 million doses of these vaccines by the end of June.
As of Sunday, 18 July 2021, just over 4.12 million Pfizer-BioNTech doses had been administered.
Another 2.1 million doses were set to arrive over the course of July, with batches typically shipped weekly.
The arrival of new vaccines appears to be outpacing the speed at which jabs are being administered.
Pfizer’s shot has been part of South Africa’s vaccine rollout for nine weeks, with about 458,333 doses administered per week. This is below the number of doses expected to arrive in the country every week.
Crisp has previously also stated that the government was keeping a close eye on the number of vaccines being administered.
“We get a report at the end of every day, through our stock visibility system, of what vaccines have been used, and we track what is used against the reports of vaccine doses that are reported on the EVDS to check what’s happening,” he said.
Should the Department of Health detect that vaccine stocks were running low, it would simply stop walk-ins.
Dis-Chem also told MyBroadband that in the coming week it would receive its largest vaccine allocation in over six weeks.
The availability of shots appears to be more than sufficient in Gauteng, as the province allows walk-ins for residents 35 years and older at public vaccination sites.