South Africa is experiencing a chronic shortage of flu vaccinations with no prospect of more supplies, as winter approaches and hundreds of thousands of tourists are about to descend on the country for the World Cup.
Doctors and pharmacies all over South Africa have run out of the vaccine – which is imported from Australia – and they say that their local suppliers have informed them that there is no more stock available.
The National Department of Health in February took delivery of 1.3 million doses of the vaccination, but these are being used to inoculate “front line” workers manning ports of entry during the World Cup, as well as workers in the state health care institutions and children younger than 15 who are HIV positive and on anti-retroviral treatment.
A further 3.5 million doses donated by the World Health Organisation (WHO) will be used in a second inoculation campaign aimed pregnant women, people older than six months who have “underlying medical conditions”, including HIV, chronic lung and cardiac diseases, and people over 65 who receive treatment via the public health services.
But private medical practices and pharmacies, which ran out of their meagre supplies within weeks, are being told by suppliers that there is no more stock available. Their supplies had been snapped up by people fearing a recurrence of last year’s swine flu paranoia, who had rushed to be vaccinated.
National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NCID) communications manager Nombuso Shabalala confirmed the acute shortage of vaccinations in the private sector and said there were several reasons for this, including production problems caused by one of the strains in the vaccine not growing well.
Shabalala said manufacturers had also switched their focus to producing vaccinations against the H1N1 virus – swine flu – driven by a worldwide demand from people wanting to be vaccinated. Adding to the problem was the fact that local suppliers had not ordered sufficient quantities because vaccine “uptake” had traditionally been low in South Africa.
“While the majority of persons will not develop complications of influenza, those at risk for severe disease should be vaccinated,” she said.
Korsiema de Kock a pharmacist assistant at Clicks pharmacy in the Golden Acre in Cape Town said they had run out of stock two weeks ago. Many of the people who had been vaccinated feared that foreigners arriving for the World Cup will bring germs in from overseas, she said. But their supplier had informed them that there was no more stock available.
Marissa Barron, a pharmacy assistant at Brackenfell Pick n Pay said: “It was mayhem…we sold 300 vaccines within a week.” But unlike previous years, they had been unable to order more stock when they ran out, she said.
A manager at Dis-Chem pharmacy in Century City, who asked not to be named, said they had run out of their stock of 2000 doses within three weeks and were now turning people away.
“It’s very concerning because high risk people could land up in hospital or dying if they are not vaccinated,” he said.