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March 2021 1st edition

SA rolls up sleeves for COVID-19 vaccination

Written by Allison Cooper

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize recently led the nation by example when they launched South Africa’s mass Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) vaccination programme. They joined the first healthcare workers in the country to be vaccinated.President Cyril Ramaphosa was one of the first South Africans to receive the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine.

The President demonstrated his confidence in the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine and helped to allay people’s fears when he was vaccinated against the virus at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in the Western Cape.

The first batch of J&J vaccines arrived in the country on 16 February.

“It gives me great pleasure to announce that the first batch of 80 000 doses of the J&J vaccine is being prepared for distribution across South Africa with immediate effect,” the President says.

“As this batch has already been approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority, these vaccines will be rapidly dispatched to all provinces,” he added.

Most vaccination centres were ready to begin the vaccination programme from 17 February.

The President says he is pleased that the vaccination programme commenced in mid-February, as was previously announced by government.

This feat was realised even though South Africa’s roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine that arrived on 1 February, had to be suspended as they are not effective against the 501Y.V2 virus variant that is dominant in the country.

Minister Mkhize says the AstraZeneca vaccines will be distributed to countries that do not have the 501Y.V2 virus variant. “There will, therefore, be no wasteful expenditure,” he confirmed.

“I would like to congratulate the Vaccine Inter-Ministerial Committee, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines, Minister Mkhize and his team, and the Medical Research Council for responding so rapidly and effectively to this challenge,” the President says.

Nurse Zoliswa Gidi-Dyosi will go down in history as South Africa’s first healthcare worker to receive the vaccine. To date, over 380 000 healthcare workers have registered to be vaccinated.

J&J vaccine is safe 

The President confirmed that the J&J vaccine was shown to be safe and effective during extensive trials. It will protect South Africa’s healthcare workers from illness and death due to COVID-19, he added. 

“We have called on leaders in various sectors and parts of the country to lead by example and get vaccinated publicly. We will therefore witness some Premiers, MECs and leaders from civil society, religious formations and traditional leadership being vaccinated in all provinces."

Speaking in Parliament during the State of the Nation Address (SONA) Debate, Minister Mkhize confirmed that COVID-19 vaccinations are free at the point of care and will be paid for by public funds and medical aids.

Defeating COVID-19

During his SONA, President Ramaphosa says defeating COVID-19 is government’s number one priority.

“Fundamental to our nation’s recovery is an unrelenting and comprehensive response to overcome COVID-19,” he says.

Driven by the 501Y.V2 variant, the country’s second wave was more severe and cost many more lives than the first wave.

“Nevertheless, the human cost could have been far greater. Had we not moved quickly to restrict movement and activity, had we not prepared our health facilities, had South Africans not observed the basic health protocols, the devastation caused by this virus could have been far worse.

“This year, we must do everything in our means to contain and overcome this pandemic. This means intensifying our prevention efforts and strengthening our health system. It also means that we must undertake a massive vaccination programme to save lives and dramatically reduce infections across the population,” the President says.

Vaccine update

South Africa has secured nine million doses of the J&J vaccine, the President confirmed during the SONA. 

Government has also secured 12 million vaccine doses from the COVID-19 Vaccine Global Access Facility, which will be complemented by other vaccines available to South Africa through the African Union’s African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

“Pfizer has committed 20 million vaccine doses, commencing with deliveries at the end of the first quarter.

“We are continuing our engagements with all vaccine manufacturers to ensure that we secure sufficient quantities of vaccines that are suitable to our conditions. The health and safety of our people remains our paramount concern,” the President says.