Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

Mkhize spells out Covid-19 vaccine roll-out for the year

By Mayibongwe Maqhina Time of article published Mar 31, 2021

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Cape Town - Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Tuesday night reiterated the government’s plan to vaccinate the entire adult population for a year from the start of the vaccination on February 17.

“We are as keen as all fellow South Africans to establish parity with our counterparts globally as we consider ourselves to be participants in the global vaccination campaign,” Mkhize said.

He made the statement when briefing the health portfolio committee in a virtual meeting.

Mkhize said they were committed to rolling out vaccines from mid-February through a phased programme that will see front-line health-care workers vaccinated within three months, high risk group vaccinated in the ensuing six months and healthy adults in the remaining three months.

“We are still on track in this regard,” he said, adding that although there had been delays in first phase, they had not lost the original phased time frames that were proposed.

Mkhize told the MPs he could confirm that negotiations on vaccine procurement mainly with two companies were complete and signing would take place in the next 48 hours.

“We want to assure South Africans that our working relationships with manufacturers are strengthened by continuous engagement which began as early as June 2020.”

The minister noted that the country initially did not have the financial muscle to engage with “unhedged bets”, but had engaged as soon there was clarity on the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

He said that the country ended up with 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine and in the process had to abandon their use.

“If it was not for that, we would have vaccinated as many people, but the delay has been a result of the fact that we could not use those vaccines, and of late we started with J&J [Johnson & Johnson] vaccine.”

Mkhize said that as announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa, in addition to 1 million doses that were secured from J&J, South Africa successfully pushed for a further 20 million.

“We are currently negotiating terms of the additional doses. This means that we have 31 million doses of J&J in the pipeline.”

He said the number was confirmed and that they have to close the agreement in a matter of day or two.

Mkhize said the J&J vaccines were the most convenient because they were a one dose regimen and because of the ease of storage (with no special fridges required).

“We find this most convenient and this was recommended by the Ministerial Advisory Committee,” he said.

He said they aimed to deploy the J&J vaccine preferably in rural areas and for population groups which are having various challenges, such as the elderly, who might have difficulty returning for the second dose.

“One dose is good enough to make someone properly vaccinated. We think it is a high priority vaccine and the majority of South Africans will receive this one,” he said. “We will make sure that those in rural areas are able to get as good vaccine as anyone else.”

Mkhize said the first batch of J&J for South Africa had been ready since March and was currently undergoing compulsory safety checks, and would be distributed one month after production.

“In reality we have seen yesterday that the production is going on, so that for us is a huge boost in terms of our excitement and hope for the vaccination programme,” the minister said. He added that the proximity of J&J production plant in Gqeberha “has proved of strategic importance”.

Mkhize said in addition to 31 million doses of J&J vaccines, they have already announced that they have signed for 20 million doses of Pfizer vaccine.

“We already have an agreement signed with Covax. These are part of armament.”

Mkhize said they continued to leverage their strong relationship with Covax so that the country was prioritised when they get other vaccines.

“We have a co-operative arrangement with Covax on how to manage the agreement on supplies of vaccine. That work is being done and we directed the director-general to engage with Covax in that regard.”

He also said the department’s director general had been directed to complete negotiations with Sputnik, Sinovac and Sinopharm manufacturers and report back on an urgent basis.

“We had have several meetings with these particular manufacturers. We are looking how to finalise this mater. Respective applications to Sahpra [the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority] are considered current on a rolling basis.”

Briefing the committee earlier, the technical adviser to the department, Dr Aquina Thulare, said 244907 health-care workers had been vaccinated.

“The total number on the EVDS [Electronic Vaccination Data System] exclude vaccination paper records, which are reconciled at the end of the day. Some 6 875 vaccinations had been completed for March 30 as at 12h30,” she said.

Thulare said 775 912 health-care workers have registered for the vaccination programme with Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and the Western Cape having the highest numbers that have been registered

She said 2 085 sites have been identified for the roll-out of the vaccine and they had identified that the highest risk groups would be vaccinated first.

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