Vaccine shortages ‘a thing of the past’ as deliveries flood into SA

30 July 2021 - 09:52 By tanya farber
Provided batches arrive as scheduled, SA's Covid-19 vaccine supplies are assured, health officials said on Friday.
Provided batches arrive as scheduled, SA's Covid-19 vaccine supplies are assured, health officials said on Friday.

The past week was “not a good one” in terms of vaccines as supply constraints marred the rollout.

But the health department said on Friday that SA now has a bountiful supply and a pipeline that will last until the end of the year.

The biggest batch about to land is a Covax donation to the country of 5,660,460 doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine that will arrive between Saturday and Tuesday, on top of a further 1,556,100 doses that were purchased.

In terms of the one-shot J&J vaccine, 1,454,900 doses will also be distributed in the coming week.

“Uncertainty around vaccine supply is now a thing of the past,” said health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi after describing how this week “the supply was constrained and some sites ran out of stock and people had to be turned away”.

Dr Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general in the health department, said stock had run down to only six days' supply but “we are finally out of the dearth” with the big batches arriving.

He said 7.3-million vaccines had been administered but “we are not reaching the most vulnerable sufficiently”.

One out of seven vaccinees in August “must be over the age of 60” so the vulnerable are protected, and he also highlighted that particularly men over the age of 50 “were not turning out in their numbers for vaccination”.

On the upside, he described the Pfizer donation as a “substantial” one that will make a “massive difference” in the drive to administer a million jabs every three days.

“Provided the vaccines are delivered on schedule, there is no constraint going forward, and we can complete the year without needing more procurement,” said Crisp.

Kubayi described as “very good news” that the country was receiving “more doses of Pfizer than expected” and had also received a substantial supply of J&J.

“We are also looking at Sinovac and AstraZeneca,” she said.

Referring to the 18 to 35-year-old cohort eligible for vaccines from September 1, she said the major boost to supplies would mean the health system would be able to respond to the “great need” that would arise.

Importantly, this generation could create a positive example that she hoped would help to quell vaccine hesitancy.

According to Dr Jabu Mtsweni of the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, our daily average since the inception of the rollout on May 17 has been 173,000 doses. Of those, 80% have been Pfizer and 20% have been J&J.

He said to reach the target of 67% of the population vaccinated by the end of March next year, we would need to sustain a daily average of 264,000.

In the meantime, South Africans continue to die and Kubayi noted the “very sad” landmark of 70,000 deaths officially caused by Covid-19. The true toll of the virus is thought to be about three times that number.

“As long as the number of infections rise, the death toll will continue to increase and this is very sad,” she said.

“We need South Africans to be cautious and to understand that getting vaccinated does not mean you don’t get infected or transmit the virus. The non-pharmaceutical interventions remain critical.”

Nationally, daily infections were declining, but while Gauteng had seen a “significant decrease” she was “concerned by the rise of numbers in the Western Cape which has now surpassed Gauteng as the epicentre”.

In the past 24 hours, the Western Cape accounted for the highest percentage of positive cases (29%), with Gauteng second on 27%.