Deputy President David Mabuza and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, visited the Biovac plant in Cape Town yesterday. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)
Deputy President David Mabuza and the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Technology, Blade Nzimande, visited the Biovac plant in Cape Town yesterday. Picture: Armand Hough/African News Agency (ANA)

Covid-19 vaccine roll-out not fast enough, says Mabuza

By Shakirah Thebus Time of article published Mar 19, 2021

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Cape Town – Deputy President David Mabuza has admitted South Africa’s vaccine roll-out is not moving at the speed hoped for, and, despite the country opening several Covid-19 vaccine distribution sites, there were not enough doses.

As the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Covid-19 Vaccines chairperson, Mabuza, with Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande and International Relations and Cooperation Minister Naledi Pandor visited the Biovac Institute yesterday.

Located in Pinelands, the institute performs product development, formulation and filling of vaccines, packaging, labelling and cold chain and distribution.

The visit was to assess the facility’s capabilities, infrastructure and investments made to support vaccine manufacturing and development.

The country has allocated R10 billion to purchase Covid-19 vaccines, and agreements have been entered into to acquire the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine and the Pfizer vaccine.

The availability of vaccines remained a struggle for the country, said Mabuza.

“In terms of our pace, we seem to be very slow. We are dependent on the manufacturers, when the vaccine is available, we fly it in, (and) we start inoculation. So the challenge that the whole world is facing is availability. We are inoculating as we’re speaking, but not at the pace that we want. We have opened a lot of sites, but with very little vaccines in each and every site,” said Mabuza.

The country hopes to reach one million vaccinated health-care workers by the second week of April, and then start phase 2 of the vaccine roll-out.

About 157 000 health-care workers had been vaccinated nationwide as of yesterday.

With the government owning about 47.5% of the facility, Nzimande said it was a one-of-a-kind on the continent.

“It started way back in 2003, just doing packaging... The plan is also to move even higher up the value chain, such that we are able to produce, invest, of course, initially in our own research and development so that we can produce and manufacture our own vaccines, hopefully, starting with Covid-19, but also in developing other vaccines.”

Nzimande said by the end of March, a contract will be signed with biotechnology company ImmunityBio to build manufacturing capacity for Covid-19 vaccines in the country.

South African-born ImmunityBio founder Dr Patrick Soon-Shiong is conducting phase 1 clinical trials of its Covid-19 vaccine in Khayelitsha.

Biovac chief executive Dr Morena Makhoana said: “For us, it is a wonderful occasion for us to be hosting the deputy president to showcase what already exists. We’ve been working for many many years in building the foundation.

“The foundation has now been built, it’s just the last step of the value chain that we have as a country, have a big gap, and that gap is manufacturing the actual raw ingredients, where we actually start manufacturing from scratch.”

Cape Argus

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