Cape Town – Healthcare workers are first in line for the one million Covid-19 vaccines South Africa would receive from India this month, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has announced.
He said government had reached a bilateral agreement with the Serum Institute of India (SII) for the first batch of doses, for front-line workers.
Mkhize said: “We have an estimated 1.25 million healthcare workers both from public and private to be prioritised. It is for this reason that today we announce that South Africa will be receiving 1 000 000 doses in January and 500 000 doses in February from the SII.”
The minister said the Department of Health and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) were fine tuning and aligning all the regulations processes to ensure there were no unnecessary delays or regulatory impediments to activate the roll out.
“We are happy that the SII/AstraZeneca vaccine has already been approved by various regulators and is being rolled out in other countries. Therefore, as part of expediting the regulatory process, SAHPRA is applying reliance on that regulatory work.
“We also want to inform the public that the acquisition has been done directly by the Department of Health. This strengthens the credibility of the process as all the negotiations and payment issues are managed directly by the government with the manufacturer.”
Last year, SII sought emergency approval for the vaccine developed with AstraZeneca. AstraZeneca had signed an agreement with SII to produce 1 billion doses of its experimental vaccine for low and middle income countries.
Mkhize’s announcement came after anxiousness from South Africans regarding the absence of a vaccine plan as countries around the world went ahead with the roll out of vaccines.
While addressing Parliament’s health portfolio committee, he said the government had begun searching for a vaccine in mid-2020.
The South African Medical Association (SAMA) President Dr Angelique Coetzee said: “We are extremely happy and grateful for having bilateral talks with AstraZeneca. We will see going forward how many doctors and workers will go for the vaccination so that we have a healthcare force that will treat the public. It will be interesting to see the roll out. We have had a meeting with the pharmacy association regarding how we can join forces on how we can get health care workers involved.”
She said the vaccine could be stored, transported and handled at normal refrigerated conditions (2°C to 8°C) for at least six months.
“Most of the hospitals should be able to store it and there will be enough needles and syringes. We would like finer details on how the roll out will play out and how the private sector will be part of it,” she said.
South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) president Professor Glenda Gray said: “It's great to hear that there will be a vaccine and it’s wonderful news and it’s a tribute to their hard work.”