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Final vaccine administered as part of Sisonke trial

15 May 2021 - 20:17 By NIVASHNI NAIR and Matthew Savides
As of 5pm on Saturday, the final Covid-19 vaccine was administered as part of the Sisonke trial.
As of 5pm on Saturday, the final Covid-19 vaccine was administered as part of the Sisonke trial.
Image: BreadCrumbs Linguistics

The final Covid-19 jab as part of the Sisonke trial has been administered.

Dr Nigel Garrett, national co-principal investigator in the Sisonke study - and head of vaccines and pathogenesis research at CAPRISA - told TimesLIVE that the final healthcare worker would be logged on the system at 2pm on Saturday, and that no more of the Johnson & Johnson vaccines would be administered beyond 5pm.

He said on Saturday morning: "We were at 474,000 [healthcare workers] last night that are registered on the system. There are a few additional ones that may have paper consent. I suspect there is going to be another 6,000 today. We finished our last dosages in KwaZulu-Natal and Free State on Friday. In general, most provinces will finish today.” 

He added that there was a “rural extension rollout” ready for the Eastern Cape, during which about 3,000 doses would be administered early next week.

The Sisonke study recorded its highest number of vaccinations in a single day on Thursday when 24,439 healthcare workers received their vaccines around the country.

"We know that there are a lot of healthcare workers waiting for their vaccination, for example in Durban. But the good thing is that the Pfizer vaccination is here and there is freezer capacity in Durban or Johannesburg, so it is going to be easier to access the Pfizer vaccination. At least, that’s the plan," Garrett said.

Garrett added that government should use the knowledge gained from the Sisonke rollout as it prepared for the second phase, which will start on Monday.

Key, he said, was provinces finalising vaccination centres. 

"Once you know the vaccination centre, you can build on that. We can then say the catchment of each of these vaccination centres will get an invitation, and you can then start scheduling [people for vaccines] because if you don’t know the vaccination centre, you cannot start scheduling. And you don’t know the capacity of these.

"My advice to government is to start like we [the Sisonke trial] started — start with two or three larger sites and make them strong so you can build on top of that, because initially the vaccine supply will be relatively limited. My advice is to start with a few experienced sites that already know how to use the system. You can build up quite quickly. What I suspect is some sites will open early next and others will come in later.”

Chairperson of parliament’s health portfolio committee Dr Sibongiseni Dhlomo said that, as far as he was aware, the sites that were used for the first phase - the Sisonke trial - would be used for the next phase.

“Those setups were largely in big hospitals, big centres … I would imagine, it’s just me thinking, that those ones will not be taken out of the equation,” he said.

Prof Tulio de Oliveira, the director of the Kwazulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform (KRISP) and a member of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, agreed — saying that, as far as he was aware, the similar or the same sites would be used.

“I do not have all the information, but what I understand is that once Sisonke, which was phase 1, stopped, phase 2 could use similar sites and similar knowledge that we gained from phase 1,” he said.

Meanwhile, Stavros Nicolaou, who heads the Business for SA (B4SA) health working group, said that Monday would mark a turning point in SA's 14-month fight against Covid-19.

"While the vaccination of healthcare workers will continue, we will now, for the first time, commence the vaccination of ordinary South Africans. We will start with our most vulnerable people, the 5.4 million over 60s. The coming weeks we will see a phased ramp up of our national capacity as both public and private vaccination capacity increases and the department takes mobile vaccination to congregate settings, like old age homes," he explained.

He said the number of vaccines that need to be administered daily to achieve herd immunity was daunting.

"B4SA continues to work with the government and related stakeholders to ensure our energies are focused on getting Phase 2 successfully out of the starting blocks,” he said.

Nicolaou said the number of registrations for over 60s was still too low.

"We know from a recent National Institute for Communicable Diseases report that it is only a small percentage of people who are reluctant to receive the vaccine. So we need to keep pushing the message: please register and help others to do so as well.

"The overwhelming majority of the nation is willing to be vaccinated, and we must continue to make sure that this rollout gets underway. There will be hiccups. There will be frustrations. But this is an enormous challenge that we must tackle collectively and directly."