South Africa

Maverick Interview

Judgment Date with Judge Dennis Davis, Episode 58: Francois Venter

Professor Francois Venter, head of the Ezintsha Health Unit at Wits University. (Photo: Supplied)

Wits infectious diseases Professor Francois Venter has raised concern that our most vulnerable citizens are not getting the vaccine and lambasted the Gauteng provincial government for its poor preparation for the third wave.

People over the age of 60 and those with comorbidities are “grossly under-vaccinated”, according to Wits University infectious diseases specialist Professor Francois Venter.

He estimates that only around 20% of the elderly and people with underlying conditions have received the jab.

“What worries me is we keep dropping the threshold and then congratulating ourselves for doing 200,000 vaccines a day – which is no easy feat – but what we should be asking is what percentage of those over 60 have had at least one shot.

“Those people are still at risk and are still going to overwhelm the health system,” he warned.

To date, close to 4,9 million vaccines have been administered.

Speaking to Judge Dennis Davis during a Daily Maverick interview, Venter debunked false perceptions that vaccination would prevent infection but explained that it was a buffer against hospitalisation and death.

He also raised concern that registration for the vaccine was largely inaccessible to the poor and elderly.

“What you’re going to find is people with access to technology, [who] are relatively wealthy and have access to information, are going to be grossly over-vaccinated at the moment while poorer people in rural areas are going to be under-vaccinated.”

Citing lessons from the HIV programme, Venter said best practice was to remove all impediments to accessibility.

Rather than relying on the EVDS and vaccination centres, Venter suggested taking services to the people by using private pharmacy networks and setting up tents in public areas like taxi ranks.

“Try and make the system as simple as humanly possible”.

He said the Department of Health underestimated the scale and difficulty of the vaccination project, especially with mitigating factors like vaccine hesitancy.

On the government’s decision in March to forgo the AstraZeneca vaccine, Venter said it was the wrong call, especially since the AstraZeneca jab has proven efficacy against the Delta variant which is now driving South Africa’s third wave.

“We said at the time, you’re going to get breakthrough infections anyway. Stop wringing your hands about mild disease. Worry about hospitalisation.”

Venter lambasted the Gauteng government for being ill-prepared for the third wave which is now devastating the province. The latest statistics from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) show 44% of new cases are in Gauteng, while 9,208 are hospitalised due to Covid-19 in the province.

“The Gauteng government did not prepare for the worst-case scenario because they thought the worst-case scenario wasn’t going to happen.” DM



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  • The gov gets almost everything wrong! Had they acquired vaccines in time, better organised the roll out, used some of the suggestions made by Francois so that those wihout access to technology could register and be vaxed, Had not shafted many experts on the advisory council, many thousands of lives would be saved and our current death toll would be minimal.

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