South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla is hopeful the country would achieve herd immunity against coronavirus if 70 per cent of its 18 to 35 population is vaccinated.
Phaahla was speaking after the country Friday further opened up its age group-based vaccination drive to vaccinate young adults, who excitedly queued up in their thousands across the country to get the jab.
Phaahla said the government had decided to bring forward the vaccination date for its final phase from September 1 as suggested by a panel of advisory experts amid a renewed rise in the number of infections and deaths.
In its latest update, the National Institute of Communicable Diseases said 289 more people had died in the preceding 24 hours, with 14, 312 new COVID-19 cases recorded.
“We can now cut out administrative and bureaucratic red tape. Vaccination at workplaces can take place without differentiation of age differences,” the minister said.
Phaahla also said travelers for business or educational purposes would no longer require approval for vaccination in advance. About 700,000 registered students at tertiary institutions would now also have the opportunity to be protected against the virus with vaccination, he added.
The optimism came barely a week after experts expressed concerns about vaccine hesitancy among the older age groups sparked by widespread fake social media posts about the purported dangers of the vaccines, even falsely attributing numerous deaths to vaccination.
Phaahla said it was a cause of concern that there has been a resurgence in the number of infections in four of the nine provinces of the country.
“The worrying thing is that overall, in the last seven days there has been an 18.2-per cent increase in new infections compared to the previous seven days. So, while the curve had started to show a downward trend, it is now picking up again,” he said.
Phaahla said indications were that the country would be in a better position by the end of the year.
“The possibility of liberating ourselves from the clutches of COVID-19 is now in our hands. We can now open up more economic activities, religious, cultural and sporting activities with fans in stadiums as a possibility – we have seen that happening in Europe,” Phaahla said.
Under the current Level 3 of a five-level lockdown strategy, gatherings, including at funerals, are limited to 50 people and outdoor sporting activities are still not allowed with spectators at stadiums.
“We can have a last quarter of 2021 better than 2020. We can have a better Christmas and even a better 2022. All that we need now is take the first step, which is walk into a vaccination centre,” Phaahla said calling on the young adults to bring their parents and other seniors with them when they came for vaccinations.
Community organisations across the country, including temples and mosques, have now also joined health centres to provide vaccinations, many even offering services at weekends.