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SA reaches first Covid-19 vaccination milestone early

The second batch of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine arrived at OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng on Saturday. Picture: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency (ANA)

The second batch of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine arrived at OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng on Saturday. Picture: Leon Lestrade / African News Agency (ANA)

Published Feb 27, 2021


Cape Town – Within just over a week, 63 648 patient-facing healthcare workers in the public and private sector have been vaccinated against Covid-19 in the country.

The rapid rollout of the Johnson and Johnson (JnJ) vaccine to healthcare workers through the Sisonke Programme is a critical first step in the three-phase national vaccination rollout plan, the Department of Health said in a statement on Saturday.

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It also welcomed the news that the single-dose Johnson and Johnson (JnJ) vaccine is ’’even more efficacious than previously expected, with a 64% efficacy rate at preventing the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant’’.

On Tuesday, JnJ had filed an updated set of trial results with the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for review, taking into account additional follow-up time for people enrolled in the trials.

’’FDA approval of the single-dose JnJ vaccine for general use is expected this weekend, paving the wave for similar approval by SAHPRA in a few weeks. Until then, the early access JnJ vaccine will continue to be provided through the Sisonke partnership between government and the South African MRC.’’

The second batch of the JnJ vaccine arrived at OR Tambo International Airport in Gauteng on Saturday. The consignment will be moved to a secure facility in Gauteng before being distributed to the various vaccine centres in all provinces.

Commenting on the Sisonke Programme, the department said: ’’In just under one week, the Sisonke Programme has set up 18 vaccination sites, developed and implemented complex logistics (including cold chain management, distribution of vaccines, vial filling), trained additional vaccinators, set up an online electronic registration system and ensured the safe and timely vaccination of tens of thousands of healthcare workers.

’’The Sisonke Programme is outperforming original targets for number of vaccines delivered in its first week and is set to continue this momentum in its second week as more sites come online.

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'’The demand for the early access JnJ vaccine continues to increase. The Department of Health, the Sisonke Programme team and private sector partners are encouraged by the turnout of colleagues at vaccination sites.

’’Healthcare workers are demonstrating vaccine confidence and trust in the system. We welcome and applaud this effort, and appeal to healthcare workers to practice patience as we continue to scale up the rollout of this unprecedented life-saving national effort to colleagues who have been at the front line of the battle against Covid-19.

'’Real-life rollout has shown that demand from healthcare workers is in excess of original estimates. In order to ensure the quickest and most efficient rollout possible, the rollout will be adjusted so that the selection of new and additional vaccination sites will start early next week, ahead of schedule. This will occur in consultation with provinces and will seek to extend the programme outside major centres.

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’’At a national level the Sisonke Programme has exceeded expectations. We are aware that there are pockets of challenge dispersed across the country, and we are working hard to solve for these problems as efficiently as possible.

’’We appeal to healthcare workers to support us in this national effort by following the registration guidelines and practising patience at sites. Each healthcare worker is a vital part of the healthy functioning of our health system.

’’We will endeavour to ensure that all healthcare workers are vaccinated in a timeous and fair way, starting with patient-facing healthcare workers who are at the highest risk of contracting severe Covid-19 and therefore receiving priority status in this part of Phase 1.

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’’The rapid protection of patient facing healthcare workers is an urgent priority for the health system and for the nation.’’


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