/ 17 May 2021

The who, when, where and how of South Africa’s mass Covid vaccination campaign

Launch Of The Sisonke Vaccine Programme At Charlotte Maxeke Hospital In South Africa
There are enough Covid-19 vaccines in the country, but the roll-out programme has lost momentum, with a marked dip over the past fortnight, the department of health said on Tuesday. (Photo by Luba Lesolle/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

People 60 years and older who have registered to get their Covid-19 jab are asked not to queue at allocated vaccination sites if they have not received an SMS confirmation to do so. 

On Monday 17 May, South Africa started its nationwide vaccination roll-out. 

The aim of phase 1B and phase two is to vaccinate 700 000 health workers and five million people aged 60 and over by the end of June.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize reiterated at the launch of the mass vaccination drive on Sunday evening 16 May that “we will start fairly slowly over the course of the week then ramp up towards the end of the month”. 

“We will continue to vaccinate healthcare workers and complete the targeted 1.2-million by the end of the week. We will also begin to vaccinate citizens 60 years and older, who are the most vulnerable to becoming ill or dying of Covid-19.”

The aim of the nationwide vaccination campaign is to see more than 40-million adults vaccinated against Covid-19 by February 2022

The Sisonke programme, which saw 478 733 health workers being vaccinated, has ended and the remainder of the 500 000 vials issued under the programme will be sent to the South African Medical Research Council.

Old age homes receiving the vaccine

From Monday, the two-shot Pfizer vaccine will be administered at 87 sites nationwide, with the aim of injecting more than 10 000 people on the first day. More than 7 000 health workers and 4 288 people 60 years and older have received their confirmation SMS informing them where and when they must turn up for their Covid-19 jab, according to the department of health. 

To avoid long queues and prevent the spread of the virus no walk-ins will be allowed. People in homes for older people will not get an SMS because their vaccines will be administered where they live. 

The health department is targeting about 7 700 senior citizens in 102 homes for older people by the end of this week, and about another 50 000 by the end of May.

What is required and what to expect

  • Proof of identification: ID book, driver’s licence or passport; 
  • Medical aid card, if you are a member;
  • If you miss your vaccine appointment you will be rescheduled. If you miss three appointments you will not be rescheduled but you can ask to be rescheduled; 
  • You cannot choose which vaccine you will receive; 
  • After your first dose of vaccine you will be told if a second dose is needed and when and where it will be administered; 
  • Aftereffects are not uncommon. They include flu-like symptoms — a mild fever, headache and tiredness— over one to two days can be expected; and 
  • People who have completed their vaccination course will get an SMS and vaccination card for proof of having been vaccinated. 

How to register for a vaccination

About 2.1-million people have already registered for vaccination — 914 000 health workers and 1.2-million people aged 60 years and older.  

People can register on the Electronic Vaccine Data System (EVDS) in five ways:

1. Online;

2. Using WhatsApp, 0600 123456;

3. By SMS, *134*832#;

4. Call the toll-free Covid-19 hotline, 0800 029 999;

5.  A QR code will soon be available on the health department’s website.

Prevent the spread of the virus

The vaccine can show immunity markers after 14 days of receiving the vaccine. Mkhize said people will be protected against a severe case of Covid-19 or from dying from the virus. 

But he said: “No vaccine works 100% and we still do not know whether vaccination prevents transmission of the virus.”

People must still adhere to all health protocols — wearing a mask, washing hands with soap or using a sanitiser and maintaining a distance of at least 1.5m — to stop the spread of the virus.

As of Sunday 16 May, South Africa recorded 2 585 new Covid-19 infections, bringing the total of positive cases since the start of the pandemic in the country in March 2020 to more than 1.6-million cases. About 55 000 people have died.