Accelerate the Covid-19 vaccine rollout and widen it to younger people, a private hospital group boss urged on Thursday, as he confirmed the number of patients requiring hospitalisation during the current third wave is increasing sharply.
“We must get the right social disciplines in place and accelerate the vaccination rollout by dropping the age limit to reduce the pressure on the hospitals,” said Peter Wharton-Hood, CEO of Life Healthcare.
As policymakers debate the current adjusted level 3 restrictions, he said it was too late for a tighter lockdown, instead appealing to individuals to take responsibility for their actions to help curb the spread of infections.
“Prevention is far better than cure. Our learnings show that the third wave is a direct result of social behaviour. People are not following the obvious advice and guidelines that have been given to them for months. Responsible behaviour, masking and social distancing could have prevented this surge from happening.
“The infections are already in the system and a harder lockdown, which has dire social and economic consequences, is not going to prevent the peak in infections predicted within the next two weeks.”
Life Healthcare had just over 1,400 Covid-19 inpatients countrywide on Monday, he said. This number was a sharp increase from less than 200 cases two months ago.
“Sixty percent of the admissions are in Gauteng, with 800 new cases. This is considerably more than the 600 and 700 cases at the peak of wave one and two respectively,” said Wharton-Hood.
While hospital management teams and medical committees were working closely together to ensure adequate beds, personnel and equipment were available where needed, he said SA’s salvation lay in rapid inoculation.
“We must accelerate the vaccination rollout. As more vaccine doses are being delivered into the country, we must drop the age limit to get more people vaccinated, especially those with comorbidities.”
The hospital group has already seen the benefits of vaccination among its staff.
The percentage of staff infected with Covid-19 since the start of the third wave is about 4% — versus 17% in the first two waves combined — with many staff displaying less severe symptoms, he said.
He assured people over 60 who are in line to receive vaccinations that hospitals have stringent safety measures in place to ensure their safety.
“We are also experiencing a high volume of no-shows for scheduled appointments and would like to urge those with confirmed SMSs for vaccination appointments to attend their scheduled appointments.
“Real-world evidence gathered across the globe has demonstrated the efficacy of the vaccines, which not only reduce the transmission of Covid-19 but significantly reduces the risk of developing severe disease and therefore hospital admissions.”
While not every facility could accommodate people arriving without bookings, as they received a certain number of doses based on appointments, he said: “It is in everyone’s best interest to accelerate the process and wherever humanly possible, walk-ins for those over 60 with medical aid will be accommodated.”