South Africa opens up vaccinations for 12 to 17 year-olds

The department of health announced that children between the ages of 12 and 17 are now eligible to receive Covid-19 vaccinations, starting from Wednesday, 20 October.

Children eligible to receive a vaccine will be given one dose of the Pfizer vaccine, which has been approved by the South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) in September. 

Minister of Health Joe Phaahla said the decision to open up vaccinations to children follows a recommendation by the Vaccine Ministerial Advisory Committee which was supported by health MECs and the cabinet. 

“We believe this will come handy as schools start exams or are advancing towards concluding the academic year and preparing for the next year,” said Phaahla during the department’s weekly digital press briefing on Friday. 

The advisory committee advised only one vaccine dose “while assessing information which suggests that in a few cases there have been short-lived cases of transient myocarditis [inflammation of the heart muscle] after two doses,” said Phaahla, adding that a second dose might be expected when further information is available about transient myocarditis, a rare side-effect. 

But vaccinology researcher Professor Shabir Madhi, dean of the faculty of health sciences at the University of the Witwatersrand, said he is not convinced about vaccinating children between 12 to 18 years. 

“I’m completely ambivalent about vaccinating children between 12 and 18. I am simply not convinced for a number of reasons,” said Madhi during a Covid-19 vaccine discussion with the health website, MyHealth360, on Friday. 

“We need to be clear that when we vaccinate that age group, we are mainly vaccinating them not for individual protection, but rather because of trying to reduce the number of people that could transmit the virus in the community,” he said.

The chances of someone in this age category ending up in hospital is “nominal”, according to Madhi. But he agrees that children with underlying medical conditions, who are at risk of being admitted to hospital when they contract the coronavirus, should be vaccinated. 

“For the general population the main reason we vaccinate children between 12 and 18 is really to reduce their ability to transmit the virus so it is an indirect protection that we are actually trying to enhance,” he said. 

Expanding the vaccination scope won’t be as effective while a “significant percentage of people above 50” are unvaccinated, according to Madhi. 

He said the sheer number of people being vaccinated should not be the focus, but rather it should be on vaccinating the right group of individuals. “We will be dropping the ball and we will be sort of missing the target. The groups that are most likely to end up in hospital dying of Covid-19 are usually people about the age of 50, or those above the age of 55 with underlying medical conditions.”

South Africa administers about 200 000 vaccines daily. 

As of Thursday afternoon, 19 899 million vaccines had been administered nationwide. Phaahla is confident the country will cross the 20 million mark by Friday afternoon.  

“Individuals with at least one jab have reached 13 803 million which is 34.6% of all adults, so we are getting closer to 35%, which will be half of the 70% we are targeting,” he said.

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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