Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize during a media briefing by cabinet ministers on the details of government's interventions regarding the Coronavirus. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)
Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize during a media briefing by cabinet ministers on the details of government's interventions regarding the Coronavirus. Picture: Jacques Naude/African News Agency(ANA)

SA on track for Covid-19 vaccines - Zweli Mkhize

By Valerie Boje, Goitsemang Tlhabye Time of article published Jan 4, 2021

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Pretoria - South Africa is hoping to get Covid-19 vaccines as early as next month and, ultimately, vaccinate 67% of the population to create a herd immunity against the coronavirus.

In a televised briefing yesterday, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that much work had been done behind the scenes to ensure that South Africa can access and deliver vaccines at a time of anxiety about the spread of the deadly disease.

The rollout of a vaccine will be done in phases starting with healthcare workers through the Covax Facility in the first phase, to be complemented in the second phase with the vaccine being administered to other essential workers, vulnerable citizens such as the elderly or those with comorbidities.

Mkhize said the initial funding came from the Solidarity Fund and negotiations were ongoing, including with medical aids, for a private-public partnership for further phases of the rollout.

While there were sceptics, he said many technical issues had been resolved and a task team was working hard to deliver vaccines earlier even than President Cyril Ramaphosa had said in his address to the nation a week ago.

Rollout will be led nationally with a one-procurement approach, with the private sector assisting with the implementation of the programme.

Discussions were at a “very sensitive stage”, Mkhize said.

The SA Health Products Regulatory Authority had a fast-track mechanism for vaccine applications, and the Health Department had embarked on distribution networks across all levels of the public and private sector.

This would go hand-in-hand with information as there were misconceptions and “vaccine hesitancy”, according to Mkhize.

He said he was confident South Africa could “catch up” with high-income countries which had already started with immunisation.

Dr Anban Pillay, deputy director-general of the Department of Health, said a series of platforms – such as work-based, mobile outreach and vaccine centres – would be established to involve provincial, district, local and the private health sectors in the distribution of Covid-19 vaccines.

Initially, until at least March, vaccines are not expected to be delivered in significant numbers but the pace would increase dramatically as manufacturers brought vaccines online.

To date the authorities have already had in-depth negotiations with five vaccine producers, Pillay said.

As the new year started, the National Health Department reported a cumulative total of 71 379 positive cases for Tshwane alone, with 1 571 new cases identified, 1 444 deaths and 59 723 recoveries to date.

South Africa recorded 18 000 new cases on December 31, 16 726 on Friday and 15 002 on Saturday.

The cumulative number of Covid-19 cases in South Africa is now more than one million, with the total known deaths at 29 175. This includes 418 Covid-19-related deaths on Friday and 288 on Saturday.

The resurgence is putting pressure on the healthcare systems, especially the supply of oxygen and on staff exhausted after months of caring for Covid-19 patients.

It has also led to a tightening of lockdown regulations including an alcohol ban and longer curfew.

The Life Eugene Marais Hospital in Tshwane is just one facility that has had to make alternative arrangements in order to cope with the influx of patients.

The hospital has set up a 10-bed temporary screening and triage area to assist with the number of patients arriving at the facility.

Dr Charl van Loggerenberg, general manager for emergency medicine at Life Healthcare Group, said the hospital was actively responding to the increased demand in patients seeking medical care, but human resources and equipment were under pressure and there were limitations on the number of patients that could be accommodated there, as in other hospitals.

“From the beginning of the pandemic, we have erected and removed temporary holding areas and assigned dedicated ‘respiratory assessment’ areas as the surge fluctuated and moved.

“Like the majority of healthcare facilities in Tshwane, we have adapted to respond to increased pressure to treat patients.

The number of patients in the hospital on any one day has exceeded the peak number we experienced during the first wave,” he said.

Van Loggerenberg said that due to the numbers of patients, their hospitals were experiencing significant pressure on ICU and high-care capacity beds.

Dr Gerrit de Villiers, Mediclinic International Group general manager

for Clinical Performance, said their hospitals had also noted a strong, sustained and sudden increase in the number

of patients across the Western Cape, Gauteng, KwaZulu-Natal and in Namibia.

De Villiers said that as a result of the growing numbers the group had begun implementing additional measures to increase capacity.

“Our resources, notably staffing, emergency centre capacity and critical care resources, are under significant strain and, in many instances, at capacity.

“We believe that it is important to ensure that the community does not delay care during this period, as this could put their health at further risk.”

Despite the challenges, De Villiers said their hospitals were still carrying out elective and non-emergency surgeries and would continue to do so as the resources and capacity allowed.

He said they would monitor the situation across all bed types and across all hospitals to ensure the optimal use of the available resources and continuity of patient care.

Pretoria News

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