Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla has announced that from early next year, all children aged between five and 11, living with conditions that place them at risk of severe COVID-19 disease, will be eligible for the jab. This comes as the country crossed the 38 million mark for vaccines this week.

Phaahla said the children will be offered two doses of the paediatric Comirnaty vaccine, otherwise known as the Pfizer vaccine, with an interval of 21 days in between. 

“This will include children with chronic respiratory, heart, neurological, kidney, liver and gastrointestinal conditions as well as those with certain endocrine disorders, conditions associated with immunosuppression and serious genetic abnormalities,” said Phaahla.

The minister was speaking during a media briefing in Johannesburg on Thursday. 

“Although the number of COVID-19 cases remains very low around the country, sub-variants of Omicron continue to be detected at low levels. We continue to record deaths every week. COVID-19 vaccination is now integrated into our primary healthcare services, and we have closed the majority of our special vaccination sites. The target remains to reach 70% of the adult population with a particular focus on reaching older persons and the vulnerable groups,” said Phaahla.

Importance of booster jabs

Phaahla also revealed that the department has been receiving enquiries on whether additional COVID-19 boosters will be made available.  

At the moment, adults between the ages of 18 and 49 years are eligible to receive a total of three doses. Those over 50, are eligible to receive four doses,” explained Phaahla.

He said that they are considering offering an additional booster to both groups. Phaahla also indicated that there is little evidence of ideal booster intervals and there is a high level of immunity in the community. 

“At this stage, the intention is to provide another booster at an interval between the previous and the additional booster dose of a minimum of 180 days (six months). Although, this next booster will be a voluntary dose and not part of a wide community campaign, but the department reminds South Africans that the lifting of restrictions did not imply that the pandemic is over,” he said.

COVID-19 has taken its toll

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the COVID-19 has taken its toll on all of us.

“I do not need to tell you how challenging and stressful these past three years have been. COVID-19 has taken its toll on all of us. The pandemic has put us all to the test. It has also been a test for our transformation, demonstrating what is working, and what needs more attention,” said Ghebreyesus.

Measles cases on the rise

In terms of the update on the outbreak of measles diseases, Phaahla said that a total of 137 cases of laboratory-confirmed measles have been reported from four provinces. This covers the period from 11 October until 6 December with Limpopo recording the most cases. 

“The number of measles cases in the country are rising, and so far, four out of nine provinces have outbreaks. It is imperative to know the signs and symptoms. Measles patients present with fever, rash, and one or more of these symptoms, cough, red eyes, and runny nose. Complications of measles include pneumonia, diarrhoea, dehydration, encephalitis, blindness and death,” said the minister.

Hospitals and load shedding 

Phaahla said they are making progress in terms of the exemption of priority hospitals when it comes to load shedding.

“A total of 77 hospitals, directly supplied by Eskom, are already exempted. The department continues to engage with the Department of Cooperative Governance and the Department of Traditional Affairs (COGTA) to assist by facilitating municipalities to fast track their efforts to implement exemption of health facilities receiving electricity directly from municipalities,” said Phaahla.

According to him, Eskom’s preliminary network analysis exercise on the exemption of 46 hospitals around the country reveals that additional hospitals can be exempted through building a new infrastructure at a cost of R356 million.

Meanwhile, the Council for Scientific & Industrial Research (CSIR) is still busy conducting a due diligent exercise for the installation of solar panels at all our health facilities. – Health-e News

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