SA’s vaccine rollout: What we know and can expect

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Feb 13, 2021

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Johannesburg – It has been a tough week for the country’s efforts to secure clarity on the government’s vaccination programme, but what is clear for now is that 80 000 Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses will arrive in the country next week.

This was confirmed by President Cyril Ramaphosa in his State of the Nation Address on Thursday.

It came after Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, and a group of scientists from his advisory council, briefed the media on what they described as disappointing news for the country’s vaccination programme.

This programme was set to kick off this week in several provinces after the arrival of 1 million AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine doses on February 1.

Professor Shabir Madhi from Wits, said research conducted on vaccine participants had shown that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s ability to prevent mild to moderate effects of Covid-19 were diminished when tested against the 501Y.V2 variant. This is the most dominant variant in the country at the moment.

The results of the research, which was conducted on more than 2 000 participants last year, showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was only 22% effective against the new strain.

Madhi described the news as disappointing. He however pointed out that it was not all doom and gloom as there were other vaccines that had shown promise against the 501Y.V2 variant.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was one of them which had shown an 57% efficacy of preventing severe effects of the virus and can also help protect against hospitalisation and death.

This is the vaccine, along with Pfizer vaccine, that the country will be fast tracking in the coming weeks and will be administered to healthcare workers.

Ramaphosa confirmed during the Sona that 80 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will arrive in the country next week. A further 500 000 doses are expected in the coming weeks.

The company has also committed to providing 9 million doses, while Pfizer has committed to 20 million doses with the first batch expected towards the end of the first quarter.

The country has also secured a commitment of 12 million doses from the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) Covax scheme. Ramaphosa said negotiations were also underway with various other manufacturers.

Earlier in the week, Mkhize had said the department was conducting negotiations with US-based pharmaceutical company Moderna, the Russians for their Sputnik V vaccine and China for the country’s Sinopharm vaccine.

The minister explained that the first phase of the roll out, targeting healthcare workers, will be conducted alongside an implantation study, which will be conducted with the SA Medical Research Council.

“This will help us get valuable information about the pandemic in the post vaccination community and thus ensure early identification of breakthrough infections should they occur amongst the vaccinated healthcare workers,” the minister assured.

Mkhize also explained that the country’s projections, which included vaccinating close to 65% of the population by the end of the year, would be redrawn in line with the shortage of supply as the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine would be put on hold.

Scientists will now be tasked with figuring out a plan on how best the government can use the more than 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses which were procured. Mkhize said the government was also in talks with the WHO’s Covax programme and the African Union – which were on schedule to provide the same vaccine to the country.

Mkhize also defended concerns about the April 30 expiry date on AstraZeneca vaccine, explaining that the date had been noted and, if the vaccination schedule had not been interrupted, the doses would have been used by that date.

“The vaccines have not expired,” Mkhize said.

zintle.mahlati

Political Bureau

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