SA ready to receive first consignment of Covid-19 vaccines today
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Johannesburg - South Africa's first batch of Covid-19 vaccine doses are expected to arrive in the country on Monday, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhzie announced earlier last week.
This first batch, of 1 million vaccine doses, was approved by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) at record speed.
Sahpra said as the doses arrive they will be product-assessed to ensure they are up to standard. This process is expected to take 10 to 14 days. Once the authorisation process is complete, the vaccine doses will be distributed to all nine provinces.
The Covishield doses come from pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca and were manufactured in India, through the Serum Insitute of India.
This will be the country's first phase of vaccine roll out and will be focused on getting the country's 1.5 million healthcare workers vaccinated. The next two phases will focus on other essential workers and the broader population.
The aim, according to Mkhize, is to get at least 65% of the population vaccinated in order to achieve herd immunity and hopefully hamper the virus’s ability to spread. It amounts to about 40 million people.
During a department of health briefing with vaccine advisors on Wednesday, Dr Anban Pillay, deputy director-general at DoH, explained the difference between the various vaccines available.
The AstraZeneca vaccine comes in two doses and should be stored at a temperature of between 2 and 8 deg C. The doses are to be taken weeks apart and symptoms are mild – including fatigue and chills which could last for a few days.
Companies such as Pfizer and Johnson&Johnson have applied to Sahpra for vaccine authorisation use in the country.
How will the first phase of vaccinations work?
The acting chief operating officer at the department of health, Milani Wolmarans, explained that an online database system has been created to monitor the vaccination process.
The system is called the electronic vaccine data system (EVDS).
The system will see healthcare workers 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.
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 final, the healthcare worker will then be told when their next vaccine jab 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.
Who will cover the costs?
The department of health has explained that insured healthcare workers will be covered by their medical insurance. Those who are not insured will have their vaccinations costs covered by the government.
The department also plans to use a variety of distribution centres to administer the vaccine.
Sahpra this week also approved ivermectin for compassionate use in the management of Covid-19. Ivermectin is a medication that is often used to treat parasite infestations in humans and in animals.
There has been pressure on the regulator to approve the use of the drug for compassionate use.
The health department has however cautioned its use in the treatment of Covid-19. This is because of concerns over the lack of research on its effectiveness.
Health experts warn about dangers of vaccine scepticism
Wits Professor Shabir Madhi said the country was in a difficult position with only 53% of the population indicating willingness to take the vaccine. He also criticised the government’s late response to educating the public on vaccines.
“South Africa is in a difficult position. We know that only 53% of adults have indicated that they would be willing to be vaccinated. The reason for that is because we have not had a robust engagement with society in terms of the importance of Covid-19 vaccines.
“That is something that should be led by the government and should have started months before. There has not been a strong message from the government until very recently,” Madhi said.
Dr Aslam Dasoo, from the Progressive Health Forum, said what could counter the growth of the anti-vaccine movement was a strong focus on a collaboration between the government and civil society organisations – who often have massive outreach to communities and can better explain the need for a Covid-19 vaccine.
“You need these community-based organisations who can explain to people. You have to give the messaging to people in a language they are comfortable with. You cannot just depend on the government to do this, a very key component is civil society. But civil society has to be at the top of the table. They must be there at the planning stage and the strategic planning,” he said.
Another positive, Dasoo said, was the possibility of a decrease in vaccine hesitance once people see their fellow health professionals being vaccinated. Health professionals are expected to be part of the first group of priority individuals who will receive the Covid-19 vaccines.
“When people see their doctors and nurses take the vaccine, I think that will reduce vaccine hesitancy quite dramatically.”