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Focus on front-line workers, quality assurance ahead of Covid-19 vaccine arrival

File picture: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

File picture: Reuters/Navesh Chitrakar

Published Feb 1, 2021


Once the first batch of Covid-19 vaccine doses land in the country, the process of quality checking their viability will be conducted by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

The first vaccine to be administered will be from AstraZeneca and was procured through the Serum Institute of India.

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Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela, the CEO of the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, said when the doses arrive, they will undergo a “lot release test” which will ensure the quality of the product.

This process could take between 10 and 14 days, after which the products can be distributed to all nine provinces, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said last week.

At last week's health briefing, Semete- Makokotlela said when the regulator approved the AstraZeneca vaccine for emergency distribution, a rigorous process was followed.

“When approving the vaccine, we looked at the quality of the product, where it was manufactured. When it arrives in SA it will undergo a further lot release test. We are quite confident in the process.”

Healthcare workers in the private and public sector will be the first in line to receive the first vaccine doses. There are 1.5 million healthcare workers in SA.

The second phase will include essential workers and vulnerable groups and the third phase the broader population.

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The aim, according to Mkhize, is to get at least 65% of the population vaccinated to achieve herd immunity and hamper the virus’s ability to spread. That amounts to about 40 million people.

The process of tracking the first phase of vaccinations will involve the use of an electronic vaccine data system (EVDS).

The system will see healthcare workers being enrolled for the vaccination and application process. Once this is done, the health worker will receive an SMS and will go with their ID and medical aid to the vaccination centre.

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Once at the centre, the vaccinator will scan the vaccine code contained in the SMS and then verify the worker and vaccinate. Once this process is complete, the healthcare worker will be told when their next vaccine shot is due.

Once the second dose is taken, the healthcare worker will receive a vaccination certificate.

It is unclear yet when the online data registration system will go live. The government plans to use a mixture of centres to administer the vaccine.

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So far, a Cape Town-based company, BioVac, has been appointed to store and distribute the vaccine doses for the next three months.

The Department of Health has explained insured healthcare workers would be covered by their medical insurance. The vaccinations costs of the uninsured will be covered by government.

The country is expected to receive other vaccine doses in the next few months, President Cyril Ramaphosa has said.

So far, other pharmaceutical companies, Pfizer and Johnson&Johnson, have applied to distribute their vaccines in SA.

Vaccinology Professor Shabir Madhi, from Wits, had previously warned about uncertainty about vaccines and the government’s slow progress in securing vaccine doses. He said the government needed to have proper time lines in place on vaccine acquisition.

“The bigger issue is the time lines and another issue is the ability of government to make sure that people become immunised. Vaccines are useless if they sit in depots,” Madhi said in an earlier interview with Independent Media.

Political Bureau