SA’s Covid-19 cases now at 1 482 412 as government pins hopes on J&J vaccine
Wendell Roelf and IOL Reporter
Cape Town - South Africa recorded 3 159 new confirmed Covid-19 cases and a further 276 deaths over the past 24 hours, according to Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday.
This brings the total number of cases in the country since the start of the pandemic to 1 482 412 and the death toll to 47 145.
The country has seen a significant decrease in infections over the past two weeks as it emerges from a devastating second wave.
While KwaZulu-Natal currently has the highest number of active cases, 20 712, Gauteng has seen a dramatic rise in deaths, registering the highest number of new fatalities on Wednesday.
To date, 1 367 247 people have recovered from the disease caused by the coronavirus, representing a recovery rate of 92,7%, Mkhize said.
The cumulative number of tests conducted to date is 8 573 464 with 35 195 new tests recorded since Tuesday.
Of the deaths reported on Wednesday, 136 were from Gauteng, 34 from KwaZulu-Natal, 33 from the Eastern Cape, 31 from the Western Cape, 21 from Mpumalanga, 20 from the Free State, 8 from the Northern Cape and 3 from Limpopo.
Government looks to J&J vaccine
South Africa aims to immunise between 350 000 and 500 000 health workers with Johnson & Johnson's Covid-19 vaccine in an "implementation study" to further evaluate the shot, the president of the country's Medical Research Council said.
Glenda Gray, co-lead investigator on the local leg of a J&J global trial, told Reuters South Africa expected to get batches of around 80 000 doses every seven to 14 days for the study, once it is approved.
The implementation study would be aimed at further evaluating J&J's vaccine in the field and would be akin to a phase IIIb study, Gray said. J&J's vaccine has already been tested in the global phase III trial involving more than 40 000 participants including over 6,000 in South Africa.
Gray's comments come days after the government paused the rollout of 1 million doses of AstraZeneca's vaccine and switched to the J&J shot to start protecting its health workers.
That decision was based on a small clinical trial that showed the AstraZeneca jab provided minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the more contagious 501Y.V2 virus variant that is now dominant in the country. The government said on Wednesday it was considering selling or swapping AstraZeneca shots it had ordered.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said earlier on Wednesday that the J&J implementation study would "provide valuable information about the pandemic in the post-vaccination community and thus, ensure early identification of breakthrough infections should they occur amongst vaccinated health workers".
Gray said: "We will get 80 000 (doses) every 7 to 14 days and then based on our ability to roll them out we will redeploy them."
She added that a critical next step was for J&J to get emergency use authorisation (EUA) in the United States for its vaccine. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to meet on Feb. 26 to discuss J&J's EUA request.
"Once the FDA has approved it, there's a cascading process that goes to other countries," Gray said.
"South Africa has a bilateral agreement with the U.S. FDA and they could accept the EUA from another agency. Alternatively, South Africa could wait until there is a formal process directly with J&J and (medicines regulator) SAHPRA."