Jabs for the elderly: South Africa looks to recoup delays

Hartbeesfontein (South Africa) (AFP) –


Nurses measure out vaccine doses in a sunny room with giant windows offering views of the grounds' rampant bougainvillea.

By the end of the day, 90 residents and staff at the Evanna Tehuis retirement home will have received Covid-19 jabs.

The home is in the rural town of Hartbeesfontein, surrounded by mines and cornfields, about 220 kilometres (135 miles) southwest of Johannesburg.

Thanks to the vaccinations, "we can protect ourselves, protect each other, and not end up in ICU" (intensive care), said manager Theresa Swart.

The pop-up vaccination operation is a joint project of the local district's health department and hospitals, aiming to decrease the risk of infection for vulnerable elderly people who would otherwise travel to vaccination sites.

Standing on a veranda shaded from the winter sun, Swart tells AFP that the home had seen two Covid-19 outbreaks over the past year.

But, she says, even though they are now vaccinated, visitors are banned for the time being. "We still want to keep our residents safe. And the vaccination does not guarantee that you won't get Covid."

- Looming third wave -

Douw Chamberlain, 62, received his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine along with his outgoing mother and frail father.

"I feel more at ease," he tells AFP in Afrikaans, adding that while vaccines will not prevent his family from contracting the disease, they offer better protection.

South Africa's vaccination drive got off to a slow start. Since the initial rollout in February, some 480,000 people have received jabs.

The government, which has been widely criticised for the sluggish pace of the campaign, says it has ordered enough doses to vaccinate at least 45 million of the estimated 59 million population.

A second phase kicked off on Monday, focusing on citizens over 60, with Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize saying the government aims to vaccinate five million in this demographic by the end of June.

After that, the drive will expand to younger adults.

After a brief lull, infections in South Africa climbed by as much as 46 percent between the last week of April and the first week of May, with some experts blaming the jump on the delayed jab campaign.

As South Africa is on the cusp of a third wave of infections, the slow vaccination rollout has had a serious effect on an already burdened healthcare system.

Priscilla Makhongoana, a healthcare official in the North West Province, says she hopes to see a decrease in hospitalisations.

"When going back to normal, we'll be in the position to monitor the everyday chronic conditions, rather than this pandemic," she said.

South Africa is the country hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic in Africa, recording more than 1.6 million infections and 55,210 deaths.