But the reaction in SA should be subdued excitement. “By the end of the year, they will only be able to manufacture 40-million units,” said Madhi, “Next year they’re set to make 1.3-billion, plus bear in mind that each recipient needs two doses.”
The US has procured 100-million doses and orders have been placed by the EU, the UK and Japan.
The other problem is that the vaccine needs to be kept at -70°C, and SA has very few specialised facilities able to achieve such a low temperature. “You won’t be able to just pitch up at a pharmacy or clinic for a shot,” said Madhi. “To set up more storage facilities of that nature would take a huge amount of time and expense.”
Also, a power cut could be disastrous. “It is so sensitive that even if you had a short power outage without adequate back-up, you would not be able to use the stored vaccines.”
Writing in the scientific journal Nature, leading US scientists said the vaccine was a major breakthrough and boded well for others in development but “questions remain”, including one about the elderly.