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Rollout of Covid-19 vaccine is underway across SA

17 February 2021 - 08:20 By BELINDA PHETO, ALEX PATRICK and Nonkuleleko Njilo
Authorities have confirmed the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine will start on Wednesday.
Authorities have confirmed the rollout of the Covid-19 vaccine will start on Wednesday.
Image: Reuters/Dado Ruvic

The needle of SA's first Covid-19 vaccination is expected to be inserted into the arm of a healthcare worker on Wednesday afternoon.

The first batch of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine arrived at Johannesburg's OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday night, health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed.

The consignment was moved to a secure facility in Gauteng before being distributed overnight to vaccine centres in all provinces, government said.

The Eastern Cape health department confirmed its doses would arrive on Wednesday.

Acting superintendent-general Dr Sibongile Zungu said the province would hit the ground running as soon as the vaccine arrives at Livingstone Hospital in Port Elizabeth and Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital in Mthatha.

“We are ready,” she said.

“We will give the vaccine to healthcare workers first because they have bravely been at the forefront in the fight against this invisible enemy since the first case of Covid-19 was reported.”

In the Western Cape, the health department's Juanita Arendse said the first jabs would be administered from 2pm.

The first batch of Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on February 16 2021. The batch consisted of 80,000 units of the vaccine. The vaccines were moved to a secure facility in Gauteng, before being distributed to vaccine facilities in all provinces.

Healthcare workers in the public and private sectors will be first in line to receive the life-saving jab as part of phase one of the mass rollout of the vaccine.

During phase two, other frontline workers, including teachers, miners, police officers, soldiers, SA Social Security Agency employees, department of home affairs and post office employees and people older than 18 with cormobidities and over 60 years will be vaccinated. Prison inmates will also be vaccinated during phase two, said the Eastern Cape health department.

Everyone aged 18 years and older who has not been vaccinated will get the shot during phase three, which will be the last phase.

The Eastern Cape will use schools and community halls to administer the vaccine.

The province has targeted 3.8 million people to receive the jab to achieve herd immunisation.

“It is important to stress that no-one will be forced to take the vaccine. We urge people to contact their ward councillors, nearest clinics or hospitals to get the correct information about the vaccine instead of believing chain messages shared on social media,” said the department.

“We live in a time of fake news and misinformation so it is important people make their decision about the vaccination based on reliable information and not on lies peddled by conspiracy theorists who seem hell-bent on forcing their beliefs on others. Working together we can and will defeat this virus.”

Zungu warned that the arrival of the vaccine did not mean the war against the coronavirus was won.

“On the contrary, we need to continue practising good personal hygiene by washing our hands with an alcohol-based hand sanitiser or soap and water, continue social distancing and ensure we wear masks every time we are in public, indoors or on public transport like taxis, trains and buses,” she said.

Speaking on Tuesday during the state of the nation address debate, Mkhize said government had identified 20 vaccination centres across SA's nine provinces to inoculate 80,000 health workers over the next two weeks.

Mkhize said 164 vaccinators would vaccinate around 48 clients each a day, or about six an hour.

As many as 380,000 health workers registered for Covid-19 jabs in the past two weeks.  

Mkhize said plans to procure more vaccines for everyone in the country had materialised.

“Critically, an additional 500,000 doses are expected to arrive over the next four weeks, supplemented by 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that are expected to be received at the end of March. We have secured enough doses to vaccinate all the people who will need to be vaccinated in SA,” said Mkhize.    

The Sunday Times reported that SA would be the first country to administer the J&J  vaccine with a batch of 80,000 vaccines the company was keeping in reserve in Europe.

The co-principal investigator of the J&J Covid-19 vaccine, Prof Glenda Gray, said the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority approved early access of the single-dose J&J vaccine to its research sites.

The deputy director-general of health, Anban Pillay, told Sunday Times J&J had stepped in to help SA.

“After the data relating to AstraZeneca vaccines became available, J&J appreciated our dilemma and decided to mobilise stock for health workers on an urgent basis. This was not planned or known to us prior to the AstraZeneca study results becoming available,” he was quoted as saying.

He said the stock was made up of excess doses originally produced for the J&J trial.

“The doses are expected to come through every two weeks. The quantities may vary in each shipment depending on factors on the J&J side. We are still on track to start [the rollout] this week. The vaccination is planned to be rolled out on the same day in every province.”

Pillay said the vaccination of all health workers was expected to take two to three months and other vaccines, when they become available, will probably also be used to vaccinate health workers.

In Gauteng, 52,121 health workers are set to receive the vaccine during phase 1.

Health Professions Council of SA president Dr Kgosi Letlape said frontline workers who had applied for the vaccine would be notified by SMS when they were expected to receive it.

Additional reporting by staff reporter