'National vaccine rollout will be speedier than health care jabs' - expert
The Covid-19 vaccine programme will move faster than the inoculation of health workers who are receiving shots as part of a Johnson & Johnson implementation study, says the co-principal investigator of the study, professor Linda-Gail Bekker.
"The supply of vaccines has been the bottleneck. The bottom line is this: we move every dose that comes through the door. We are on track and look forward to other vaccines coming in so the national programme can kick in," said Bekker.
Co-principal investigator professor Glenda Gray said half a million health workers should be vaccinated by the end of April, if there are no delays.
The national rollout - expected to start late in April as the J&J study winds up - will not have the demands of a research study to slow it down. "[It] will be able to scale up [faster] as it will not have the same restrictions," said Gray.
"Researchers must oversee our vaccinations and they are spread thin. The vaccinators have day jobs and the teams work in rotation. For example, at Baragwanath [Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto] they rotate in every two weeks. Hopefully the rollout will have dedicated teams and that is their only job."
The biggest batch yet of 60,000 J&J doses is expected this weekend, following a batch on Friday, and another is due next Thursday.
Bekker said: "Then we will be able to bump up doses at each site. This will give teams a chance to flex their muscles this week and see what is possible."
J&J went out of its way to supply SA following a decision not to use the AstraZeneca vaccine, after a small study raised the alarm about its efficacy against the variant dominant in SA. Gray said: "The J&J vaccines were not in Belgium waiting to be sent here. They are being sourced from all over the world, flown to Belgium and then brought to us."
Some health-care workers are frustrated that fraudsters or "undeserving" colleagues have jumped the queue, and prioritising people is also likely to be a challenge for the national programme.
The electronic vaccination data system is critical but has challenges, the teams have found. The system asks people to identify themselves and verifies this data, then provides a voucher and documents when a person is vaccinated.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize said this week that people unable to access the digital systems from their phones or computers will be able to use walk-in services that will help them to register online.
Vaccination delivery has been a steep learning curve but the system is now well oiled, said Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council.
"It is a beautiful story, the high demand and impatience. Once the supply arrives, this problem will begin to go away," she said.