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South Africa is going to miss the December vaccine target, says Discovery

Medical scheme Discovery Health has shared the latest data from its actuarial team’s ongoing analysis of the trajectory of the Covid-19 pandemic and the real-world effectiveness of vaccines.

The group noted that Covid-19 vaccine hesitancy is a key deterrent to vaccine uptake in the county and is fuelled in large part by misinformation, which drives confusion and fear.

South Africa has procured sufficient Covid-19 vaccine doses for around 80% of the population. The National Department of Health has subsequently set targets to vaccinate 70% of the adult population by December 2021.

Based on current vaccinated population levels and projections, it is unlikely that South Africa will meet these targets, and will most likely finish the year with slightly more than 50% of the adult population vaccinated, said Discovery.

“The demand for vaccination has unfortunately slowed,” said chief executive of Discovery Health, Dr Ryan Noach.

“People want to understand the true, real-world nature of the protective effects of Covid-19 vaccines. Also, people want to know their risk of experiencing side effects post-vaccination – and whether they are at higher risk of an adverse event post-vaccination or complications from Covid-19. Our analysis answers these questions.”

Positive results 

While the high level of hesitancy will impact South Africa’s targets, Discovery said that its results showing the efficacy of the vaccines are incredibly promising.

Discovery’s results show that the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine reduced the risk of being hospitalised or dying from Covid-19 in South Africa by more than 90%.

“We determined the Pfizer vaccine’s effectiveness in protecting against Covid-19 admission and mortality by analysing 526,516 pathology test results, 14,673 Covid-19 admissions and 3,441 Covid‑19 deaths. All of these occurred between 17 May 2021 (the start of South Africa’s mass vaccination campaign) and 23 September 2021.”

“The findings are striking and extremely encouraging. We have shown that following each dose of the two-dose Pfizer vaccine, there is significant protection against both serious Covid-19 illness relative risk of admission to hospital) and death – of course, most notable for those who are fully vaccinated, 14 days after receiving the second dose.”

The key findings show:

  • The Pfizer vaccine is 73% effective in protecting against Covid-19 admission risk 14 days after dose one and 92% effective from 14 days after dose two.
  • The Pfizer vaccine is 79% effective in protecting against Covid-19 mortality risk from 14 days after dose one and 94% effective from 14 days after dose two.
  • There is a stabilisation in vaccine effectiveness protecting against Covid-19 admissions and mortality at 28 days after dose one and at 14 days after dose two.
  • Encouragingly, in considering the effect of sex, specific chronic conditions, and province/location, we observe little to no variation in vaccine effectiveness in protecting from Covid-19 admission. There is, however, a 5% to 7% decline in vaccine effectiveness in protecting against admission in people over the age of 80, and in individuals who live with three or more chronic conditions.
  • Globally, studies are being conducted to establish the durability of the vaccine-mediated immune response, ie how long vaccine effectiveness lasts. To date, Discovery Health’s data shows no waning in vaccine effectiveness in protecting against Covid-19 admission and death, in the three-month data interval following the second dose. We will continue to track this and follow up for longer periods.
  • Relative to members fully vaccinated with Pfizer-BioNTech, the unvaccinated member population has a five times higher risk of Covid-19 infection; and 20 times the risk of dying from the complications of a Covid-19 infection. Importantly, there have been zero vaccine-related deaths recorded in the Discovery Health administered scheme member population.