Covid-19 vaccine: As usual, South Africa got its wires crossed

The Government announced the temporary suspension of the rollout of its J&J Vaccine programme this week. It was an odd thing to do, because the programme hasn’t begun yet. As talk show host Lester Kiewit mused on Twitter, “Is a ‘temporary pause’ to a roll-out that hasn’t started yet, like a ‘delayed live’ to a SABC rugby broadcast that starts after the game has ended?”

The government’s rationale is the growing concern about the potential of the vaccine to precipitate blood clots in some of the people who receive it: 6 in every 6,8-million. It seemed remarkably cautious, especially given the propensity of other phenomena to create the same life-threatening clots. 

Professor Guy Richards, the academic head and head of critical care of Johannesburg’s Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, posted a simple yet powerful graphic on social media: 3 to 15 individuals out of every million people are likely to get Cerebral Venus Sinus Thrombosis – aka the clot. In pregnancy: 10 to 12 out of every 100 000 deliveries could result in the same syndrome, while between 2,7 to 40 women out of every 100 000 who swallow their monthly birth control pill could develop clots.

But here’s the kicker: 4,5 to 20 of every 100 000 people who contract COVID 19 could get them too. Multiply that by 68 to get to 6,8-million and you’ve got 306 to 1 360 people developing clots (and the virus) versus potentially six individuals who get the vaccine and sidestep COVID 19.

In a world such as ours where vaccine phobia is real and fake science, paradoxically, even truer; this week’s decision plays straight into the hands of the anti-vaxxers. After a year of lockdown, it’s incumbent on all of us, but government most of all since the coffers are empty, to start dragging the new normal back to a semblance of what the old normal was and only vaccination can help us do that – on top of the new normal trifecta of social distancing, hand sanitising and face masks.

A decision that had far greater consequences for South Africans statistically – and was even more tone deaf – was Eskom’s decision to load shed at 9pm on Tuesday night. If you extrapolate the last census off the current population just over 1,1-million people would have been seriously affected – or 1 900 people per 100 000. 

Tuesday night was the official start of Ramadan in South Africa. It’s a month of abstinence and devotion in Islam, characterised by day-time fasting. Muslims go to bed late because the food is made, and eaten, at night. They get up early to be able to eat before the sun comes up. 

It’s a time of sacrifice, but no one ever imagined that would extend to electricity on the very first day, when Eskom announced the power would be cut at 9pm and switched back on at 5am. As per usual, South Africa got its wires crossed, literally and figuratively: suspending the vaccine roll out and implementing power cuts. 

It should have been the other way around – for all of us.

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 17 April 2021.