Cape Town - Parliament’s portfolio committee on health wants government to look into the fast-track use of Russia’s Sputnik Covid-19 vaccine in an effort to ramp up the country's vaccination efforts.
They also want to investigate the use of China’s Sinopharm vaccine for use in South Africa.
Speaking to IOL in an exclusive interview, chairperson of the portfolio committee on health, Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo, said the move to introduce the Sputnik and Sinopharm vaccines could help turn the tide against the deadly virus and accelerate access to life saving vaccines.
He said the committee would also engage with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) with regards to the progress made in approving the vaccines for use in South Africa.
“I believe that we are in an advanced stage in relation to the approval of the Sputnik vaccine and are awaiting documentation relating to trials and results. We will be engaging with the Department of Health and Sahpra to look at how this can be fast tracked,” said Dhlomo.
While Sahpra had received a trial batch of the Russian Sputnik vaccine earlier this year to test its efficacy for use in South Africa, it has still not released its findings as yet. However, Dhlomo’s comments suggest that the usage of vaccines from China and Russia could still be on the cards.
Sahpra CEO Dr Boitumelo Semete said that the regulatory body was still waiting for outstanding data related to the Sputnik vaccine.
“The Sputnik vaccine application is what we call a rolling review so we will continue to look at data and results as and when they become available. However, the access to this data is dependent on the applicant. I can confirm that we are still busy reviewing the Sputnik application,” said Semete.
She added that the regulator would look into all Covid-19 related applications as a matter of urgency.
“We see the benefit of having multiple vaccines. Many other countries have adopted that approach and as the regulator we will look at every applicant and review. The more options we have, the better,” said Semete.
There is currently no application for the Sinopharm vaccine before SAHPRA.
Dhlomo said that in the committee’s fortnightly meeting with the Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize and officials from that department, they reiterated the need to accelerate the country’s vaccine programme, especially in rural areas.
“We will be visiting various provinces to get a sense of how the process is unfolding. We want the health department to accelerate the vaccine programme in rural areas so that the access is equitable. Having access to multiple vaccines will also assist with this,” said Dhlomo.
He added that the committee also raised concerns with Mkhize about the slow rate of vaccinations.
“We initially thought that we would have been done with the vaccination of healthcare workers already, so it is a bit concerning. However, the department of health said that they would have completed the vaccinations of all those over 60 by September, so we keep on reminding them that they have submitted a plan to us and we want them to implement that plan effectively,” said Dhlomo.
He said that part of the push to speed up vaccinations was due to the emerging third wave of the virus in multiple provinces.
“The spikes we are seeing in some provinces are worrying and it highlights the need for us to accelerate vaccinations. The second wave of the virus has prepared us to some extent and we are hopeful the third wave will not be as bad. We need to continue with our safety protocols,” said Dhlomo.
Despite the challenges, Dhlomo believes that Mkhize and the department of health were doing a ‘good job’ overall.
“It's always easier to criticize when you are not in the thick of things, but we understand that South Africa has unique challenges in terms of terrain and logistics so overall, I think they are doing a good job given the unprecedented nature of this pandemic,” he said.
As of Friday, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the department of health had vaccinated 480 665 healthcare workers.
“These vaccinations (healthcare workers) were with the one-dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine and are therefore completed vaccinations, Mkhize said.
The total vaccinated in Phase Two (Over 60s) as at 6.30pm Friday was 161 717. These vaccinations were with the first dose of Pfizer vaccine,” said Mkhize.
The number of vaccinations represent a total of just over 1% of the country’s total population.