From petitions to deadlines: 5 reasons SA’s Covid-19 vaccine is in the news right now

04 January 2021 - 11:50
By cebelihle bhengu AND Cebelihle Bhengu
Healt minister Zweli Mkhize said 67% of SA's population will receive the Covid-19 vaccine. File photo.
Image: Freddy Mavunda Healt minister Zweli Mkhize said 67% of SA's population will receive the Covid-19 vaccine. File photo.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize on Sunday detailed a plan to roll out the Covid-19 vaccine to 67% of the country's population by the end of the year, with health workers, essential workers and people with comorbidities taking priority for the vaccine secured from the Covax programme.

Before the minister's address, there had been growing calls for government to act swiftly and avail the vaccine to prevent further deaths and spread of the deadly coronavirus.

Here are five reasons the Covid-19 vaccine made news headlines this past week:

December 29: SA will get the affordable vaccine

Mkhize said SA has 11 options of available vaccines and will consider one that is affordable and effective. Mkhize said the vaccines are being processed by different countries and SA is weighing its options.

The minister said: “They are all being evaluated in the same way. We believe those that have the results out and have shown finality in terms of the efficacy report are those which will be standardised because it is the same science across the different countries.

“Once those are finalised, it becomes important to say they could also be accessible to us if we decide to take them.

“What we are looking at is which vaccine has good efficacy, is available and affordable.”

The minister said other factors which will influence the vaccine option are logistics and availability.

December 30: AgriSA wants more vaccine for more people  

AgriSA called on government to source more vaccine for a larger portion of the population, rather than the initial 10% announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa during a press briefing last week. The president said only 10% of South Africans would get the vaccine, with health workers taking priority.

The organisation said scientists must be provided with resources to help them explore other medical solutions which will help SA in its fight against Covid-19. It said this would help boost sectors that have taken a knock and secure employment for many South Africans.

“Let us support our health professionals and workers, invest in scientific research, secure large amounts of effective vaccines timeously and assist small businesses and economic sectors that are facing real hardship as a result of the level three restrictions,” it said.

January 1: health professionals demand vaccine plan 

More than 6,600 health professionals have signed an online petition demanding a detailed vaccine plan from government.

The petition said the second wave of infections has put the health system under pressure and health professionals at further risk.

“We appeal to the department of health to engage in bilateral discussions with vaccine manufactures and to make public an effective plan to procure and distribute vaccines.

“We ask the department of health to start by vaccinating front line health workers, followed by those most at risk, including elderly people and people with comorbidities.”

The group said transparency and decisiveness in dealing with the matter would help reduce illness and bring the pandemic under control.

January 3: Experts say vaccine is the only defence against the coronavirus

Health experts told the Sunday Times SA was less prepared for the second wave of Covid-19 infections than it was for the initial wave. They said the vaccine was the only defence for SA, but lamented that government was not acting fast enough to secure it sooner.

This comes as SA continues to register increased infection rates and deaths related to Covid-19. The Sunday Times reported that last week SA recorded two spikes, namely a daily death toll of 497 on Tuesday and 18,000 daily infections on Thursday.

The Progressive Health Forum — consisting of some of SA's most eminent medical experts — told the publication a “frantic cover-up” appeared to be under way.

Vaccinology professor Shabir Madhi, the Medical Research Council's respiratory and meningeal pathogens research unit director, added that SA had missed its chance to secure vaccines.

January 3: Vaccine plan well under way, says Mkhize 

During a media briefing on Sunday, the minister said the strategy to establish herd immunity was well under way as government is “fighting” to gain access to the vaccines.

He said Ramaphosa had called on manufacturers to negotiate for access to their vaccines.

There is no justification for well-off countries to hog the stock. They have to consider releasing that stock. Some countries have stocked vaccine for five times their population and obviously they will not use all of that. It's a moral responsibility to release it. We are not asking for charity. We will buy.”

The minister further assured the public that the effectiveness and quality of the vaccine remain a priority for the government.