Speech Therapist Candice Randal was among the medical frontline workers at Tygerberg Hospital who recieved her Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine jab. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).
Speech Therapist Candice Randal was among the medical frontline workers at Tygerberg Hospital who recieved her Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine jab. Picture: Ian Landsberg/African News Agency (ANA).

How South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination programme was rolled-out in its first week

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Feb 20, 2021

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Cape Town - South Africa this week began its vaccination programme which has so far seen healthcare workers across the country get inoculated with the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

The inoculations form part of the government's first phase of vaccinations which were intended to target over 1 million healthcare workers.

The vaccinations form part of an implementation study in which the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is approved for use in the country.

The vaccine is not currently commercially approved for distribution in SA, but the SA Health Products Regulator Authority (Sahpra) has confirmed an application for commercial use is under review.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize explained that the implementation study is part of efforts of assessing the vaccine.

The first 80 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine landed in the country on Tuesday night from Belgium.

The doses were quickly distributed to over 30 vaccination site across the country.

On Wednesday, Mkhize and President Cyril Ramaphosa oversaw the first vaccinations for the coronavirus to take place in the country at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town.

The pair were also able to get vaccinated following the vaccinations of four other people who work at the hospital.

On Thursday, Saphra explained that it approved the protocol amendment of the J&J implementation study to allow for Mkhize and Ramaphosa to be vaccinated.

“The protocol amendment was approved subject to ethics approval obtained prior to the implementation of this amendment and the additional participants signing an informed consent form prior to being vaccinated,” said Saphra CEO, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela.

The government was forced to quickly change its vaccination programme, which was meant to start last week in some parts of the country, because of the AstraZeneca vaccine's efficiency results. The vaccine is less effective against mild to moderate effects of the 501Y.V2 coronavirus strain first identified in South Africa in November.

A million doses had already been delivered by the Serum Institute of Indian on February 1. Now those doses have been offered to the African Union, Mkhzie confirmed.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven to be 57% effective against the 501Y.V2 strain and can prevent death and hospitalisation.

Ramaphosa hailed the moment as promising for restoring the country's health. He said this was a significant milestone for the country.

"This day represents a huge milestone. I was pleased that there were five people vaccinated before me. It was a joy to see that nothing happened to them. Being vaccinated is a straight forward process. I want to invite all South Africans to take this up, Ramaphosa said.

"I think it is going to be flawless and done effectively. We will be able to vaccinate up to 40 million South Africans. This is a new era that means we restore the health of our nation".

Mkhize said that efforts were underway to procure more vaccines. He reiterated his comments that so far, through ongoing negotiations, the country had enough vaccines to inoculate 40 million people.

Another 500 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are expected to arrive in four weeks and thereafter about 500 000 Pfizer coronavirus vaccine doses were also expected next month.

The minister said 7 million doses were expected from Pfizer by June. The company is expected to provide the country with a total of 20 million vaccine doses.

"Agreements are close to being concluded. We have procured enough doses to cover most South Africans during discussions. We are not at all anxious that we might run into problems in the programme," the minister said.

Other notable commitments have been from the World Health Organisation's Covax scheme which has confirmed a total of 12 million doses for the country. The African Union has assured SA will get doses from the Africa procurement programme.

Dr Aslam Dasoo, from the Progressive Health Forum, said the government's ability to quickly turnaround the failure of the AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out symbolised promise.

"This allows us to begin our vaccine programme, maybe not on the scale that we wanted to but we start on time. This has been hugely advantageous. So now you have an effective vaccine on top of it is a one-shot vaccine," Dasoo said.

Political Bureau

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