Tuesday, 25 April 2023: African Vaccination Week is a crucial reminder of the life-saving power of vaccines. From COVID-19 to polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, influenza, rotavirus, measles, and the human papillomavirus (HPV), vaccines offer protection against deadly diseases. With this week falling on the last week of April, there is no better time to prioritize vaccination.
Professor Ian Sanne, local South African infectious diseases expert in the USAID-funded Accelerating Development Against Pandemic Threats (ADAPT) program in South Africa, says, “We want to raise awareness and urge everyone to get vaccinated, protecting not only themselves but also their communities from preventable diseases.”
COVID-19 is one of the greatest health challenges the world has faced. The United States Government through USAID launched the program in partnership with the Government of SA in early 2022 to increase vaccination in SA and combat the virus’s spread.
Initially, as part of the emergency response to COVID-19, the program focused on vaccine outreach in hard-to-reach areas, as well as among people with comorbidities – diabetes, HIV, TB, asthma, and other chronic conditions – and the elderly who were at higher risk of severe disease, hospitalization, and death when they contracted COVID-19.
Professor Sanne says, “Mass rollout of the COVID-19 vaccination over time slowly saw the rate and burden of the disease drop. Without vaccination, this would not have been possible. Since the start of the COVID-19 vaccination program, well over 6,3 million people in SA have been fully vaccinated. The SA National Department of Health’s COVID-19 portal reports that weekly cases are now around 500, compared to thousands during the peak COVID-19 waves.
“However, COVID-19 is not over,” stresses Professor Sanne. “People living with chronic conditions or who are over 50 remain vulnerable to COVID-19 and should get their vaccination and booster shots. The World Health Organization also advises that pregnant and breastfeeding mothers and children between 5-11 years old with comorbidities should be vaccinated. “
COVID-19 vaccinations are available at public health facilities and major retail pharmacies. Healthcare workers can advise on which vaccines are appropriate for individuals and their families. Use the FindMyJab.co.za web-based app to find the closest vaccine site or health facility where COVID-19 vaccines are being administered.
USAID is also supporting the transition of COVID-19 vaccination into routine healthcare services to sustain and embed the program in health facilities. HIV, chronic care and immunization programs are providing services alongside COVID-19 vaccination teams, offering more comprehensive, client centred care. “Ultimately, we will see COVID-19 become a manageable illness with a strengthened health system that is ready for future pandemics,” says Professor Sanne.
Be protected from deadly diseases
African Vaccination Week is part of World Immunization Week, a global annual campaign driven by the World Health Organization to raise awareness about vaccines and the right to be protected against deadly infectious diseases.
“We call on South Africans to take ownership of their own health and the health of their loved ones and get vaccinated against diseases that could threaten their health and income,” adds Professor Sanne.
“COVID-19 taught us two critical lessons about vaccination: it can help curb new infections and integrating vaccinations into routine health services can build resilience in the healthcare system and ensure sustainability. USAID has played a significant role in ensuring access to vaccines and immunization services in South Africa,” concludes Professor Sanne.