David Mabuza gives thumbs up to vaccine cold-storage facility

02 March 2021 - 17:33 By amanda khoza
Deputy President David Mabuza at the Biovac Institute in Gauteng, which is being used to store vaccines as part of the government's rollout plan.
Deputy President David Mabuza at the Biovac Institute in Gauteng, which is being used to store vaccines as part of the government's rollout plan.
Image: GCIS

Deputy President David Mabuza has given the Biovac Institute, where the county's Covid-19 vaccines are being stored, the thumbs up.

“What we have learnt today is that the cold-chain can be broken for some days and that won’t alter the quality of the vaccine. However, it cannot go beyond a certain number of days,” said Mabuza on Tuesday, shortly after a walkabout inside the cold rooms where the vaccines are being stored in Gauteng.

The visit follows a decision by the interministerial committee on Covid-19 vaccines, chaired by Mabuza, to visit various sites established for the purposes of the vaccine rollout.

According to the government, the Biovac Institute is a public-private partnership between the government and Biovac Consortium, whose focus is on ensuring that the country has the required capacity to respond to both local and regional vaccine needs.

“So this is the capability that we have as a country, which the cabinet took a decision to sort of improve, of making our own vaccines,” said Mabuza, who added that the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines which are now being administered were being stored in the facility.

Mabuza said SA was manufacturing 80% of its vaccines in Cape Town, which were then distributed countrywide.

“We want to increase this capacity so that as a country we can have that capability. We are ready, we are not going to need another storage facility. Everything that will come will be stored here. And then from here, right to the vaccination sites,” he said.

When asked whether he had been vaccinated against Covid-19, Mabuza laughed and said he was intending to do so.

“I will be vaccinated. I will visit a site where they are vaccinating and get vaccinated,” he said.

He said the government was going ahead with the procurement of the Pfizer vaccine.

Acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni said the country was administering the J&J vaccine, and the Pfizer vaccine would have to go through the necessary regulatory authorisation before it was administered.

“We cannot talk about a vaccine that we are not yet administering. We don’t vaccinate until the full authorisation is done, so there is nothing to be worried about, the relevant authorities will attend to that matter and then brief the committee,” said Ntshavheni.

On corruption, she said the interministerial committee would brief the nation next week on steps taken to prevent corruption from taking place during the vaccine procurement and distribution process.

The CEO of the Biovac Institute, Morena Makhoana, said the partnership with government was not new.

“It has been there, going now for the past 18 years. We have been supplying paediatric vaccines largely since 2003 and as and when the government has adapted the immunisation schedule to introduce new vaccines, we have equally adapted to that. Some of which we are manufacturing in Cape Town,” said Makhoana.

On the transportation of the vaccines, Makhoana said: “We have to make sure that there is full integrity, whether it is in the truck or whether it is in the warehouse. So that whole value chain has to be maintained and that is what our licence requires.”

Friday will mark exactly one year since the first coronavirus case was reported in SA. As of Monday night, 50,077 people have died in SA of Covid-19 related illnesses.

In his address on Sunday in which he placed the country on level 1 lockdown restrictions, President Cyril Ramaphosa said in the 10 days since SA launched the vaccination programme, more than 67,000 health workers had been vaccinated. This had increased to 73,047 people as of 6.30pm on Monday night, according to the health ministry.

A new batch of 80,000 doses of the J&J vaccine arrived in the country on Saturday. All provinces have established vaccination sites and have put in place plans for the expansion of the programme as it gains momentum, the president said.

“The number of sites that will be available for vaccination will be expanded next week from 17 sites to 49. Of the 49 sites, 32 will be at public hospitals and 17 in private hospitals,” said Ramaphosa.

He said once the vaccination of health-care workers has been completed, the country will begin with phase two of the vaccine rollout in late April or early May.

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