Mkhize: Mass vaccine will see a slow start, but process is ready to roll

16 May 2021 - 20:39
By TimesLIVE
Health workers queue at the Melomed Gatesville vaccination site in Cape Town on Saturday, the last day vaccines from the Sisonke trial were administered. The second phase of the rollout starts on Monday for the elderly and the remaining health workers.
Image: Esa Alexander Health workers queue at the Melomed Gatesville vaccination site in Cape Town on Saturday, the last day vaccines from the Sisonke trial were administered. The second phase of the rollout starts on Monday for the elderly and the remaining health workers.

Health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday there may be a slow start to the second phase of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout, but the numbers should pick up during the course of the month.

The second phase of vaccinations is scheduled to begin this week.

Mkhize said vaccine administrators may need to get comfortable with the vaccines before the country would see a steady incline in the number of vaccines administered daily. 

He said these were vaccines they had not used before, and they may therefore need time to acquaint themselves with certain things, like drawing the vaccines out of the vials. 

There were 87 vaccination sites available nationally, with 83 in the public sector and four were in the private sector. The department was hoping to up this number to 200 by the end of the week. 

Delivering an address on Sunday night, Mkhize said the leftover Sisonke vaccines administered to health workers would not be used in the second and third phase of the Covid-19 vaccination rollout. 

Instead, these would be used for further medical research. 

As thousands of South Africans were expected to report to vaccination sites from Monday, the country was expected to receive around 326,000 Pfizer vaccinations at midnight on Monday. 

By the end of June, 4.5 million Pfizer vaccines would have been delivered to SA and a further two million from Johnson & Johnson. 

The health departments were expecting to complete vaccinations of health  workers by the end of the week, allowing for the focus to be turned to citizens over the age of 60.

Mkhize issued a warning to people not to miss their vaccination appointments. 

Should a person miss their appointment, they could be rescheduled for another appointment but missing three appointments would lead to one being unable to secure another appointment without contacting the vaccination centre. 

SA has about 2.1 million citizens registered for the vaccination program and no walk-ins are allowed. Mkhize said this could change in future. 

With various Covid-19 vaccines available in SA, Mkhize stressed that those being inoculated would not be permitted to choose which vaccine they receive.

Patients would be informed which vaccine they would receive and whether they required a second dose.

Administration of a second dose would usually occur at the same location as the first. 

Mkhize said there is increasing evidence that a second dose should be given at a longer interval after the first. Some experts had advised  weeks between doses but some international studies have shown the second dose can even be administered three months after the first. 

Sunday Times reported that SA’s official vaccination rollout would happen amid concerns about chaos at vaccination centres, a looming third wave of infections and a lack of information from government.

The health department said vaccine availability may slow the rollout, which will target about 700,000 health workers not already vaccinated during the Sisonke trial, as well as SA's estimated 5.5 million people over the age of 60.

The Sisonke implementation study was a programme to give 500,000 health workers early access to Covid-19 vaccines since February. It finished yesterday amid claims of queue-jumping and extended queues.

The government’s goal is to vaccinate 120,000 people a day in phase 2 of the rollout, but health deputy director-general Anban Pillay said this was a fluid target and would depend on vaccine availability and other issues.

“As of yesterday [Friday], SA had 650,000 Pfizer doses  with a further shipment of 325,000 doses due to arrive tomorrow [today]. A shipment of 1.1 million Johnson & Johnson doses due to arrive at the end of last month has been delayed,” he said.

The surge in demand for vaccines over the past week suggests the national rollout will be under strain initially, said Prof Glenda Gray, co-principal investigator of the Sisonke implementation trial.

“In the first week you can expect chaos and inefficiencies but if the teams are dedicated and enthused, they will rapidly find ways to work more efficiently and at scale,” she said.

Business 4 SA’s (B4SA) Stavros Nicolai said SA was at a crucial juncture.

“We all need to acknowledge the enormity of the task. The number of vaccines that need to be administered daily to achieve herd immunity is 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. There will be hiccups. There will be frustrations. But this is an enormous challenge that we must tackle collectively and directly.”