It hasn’t been perfect but South Africa’s vaccine roll-out is gathering steam

It’s been wonderful to see the enthusiasm of the 35-49-year-old cohort; the alacrity with which they registered for their COVID-19 injections and their unabashed excitement afterwards. It’s almost as pleasing as the upward trajectory of the vaccination rate, which is starting to develop a third wave of its own despite the backdrop of denialists and naysayers saying we would never get it right.

It hasn’t been perfect, but it is happening, despite near coups and mass civil disobedience. And yet, there is still a sizeable growth in vaccine hesitancy – and die-hard anti-vaxxers, many of whom would rather pour sheep dip down their gullets and destroy their livers than take the risk of getting vaccinated. The vaccines don’t cure COVID-19, they don’t stop you from getting re-infected. What they do is stop you from dying. 

The latest figures from the northern hemisphere illustrate exactly that: People are getting infected, lots of them. But very, very few of them are dying of it – even those with comorbidities. Perhaps the best proof of just how well vaccines work will be on show this evening at the Cape Town stadium when the Springboks take on the British Lions in the first test. 

The Springbok camp has been hard hit by infections – inside a very strict bio bubble designed to stop them getting infected – but not one of them has been hospitalised. No one in the camp has died. We will know very quickly too what the effect of COVID-19 has been on their fitness, in full HD with kyk weers, slo-mo and trilingual commentary as they take on the very best players in the northern hemisphere in one of the toughest rugby series on the globe tonight.

What a pity that we can’t reward South Africa’s health professionals in particular but also any other fully vaccinated fans, with a free seat in the stands.  Cape Town stadium has a capacity for 55 000 people sitting next to one another. When you put them a seat apart you can take just over 20 000 – in what is an open-air venue. That’s about the same number of people traipsing through Sandton City on either day of a payday weekend – and that’s a fully enclosed shopping centre.

We’ve been asked to make major sacrifices to combat this virus for the good of the nation – which must of us have done with the exception of a few super spreader events like protesting for access to unregulated and unapproved vaccines or rattling our traditional weapons (and liquor) to stop a man from jailing himself. The biggest super spreader was where we ran amok through shopping centres. There’s been nary a mask, a metre of social distance or even a spritz of hand sanitiser at any of these.

Maybe it’s time the people who actually did as they told – and particularly those who have been on the frontline for months – finally got a break too. It’s too late to get to the game tonight, but what about next week? 

Originally published by the Saturday Star on 24 July 2021.