The Department of Health has shed more light on the government’s plan to roll out millions of Covid-19 vaccine jabs to as many South Africans as possible later this year.
Johannesburg – The Department of Health has shed more light on the government’s plan to roll out millions of Covid-19 vaccine jabs to as many South Africans as possible this year.
Dr Anban Pillay, the director-general for the Department of Health, said over 1.2 million Johnson & Johnson jabs for health workers were expected to be completed by mid-April.
The government has kick-started its mass vaccination drive through an early access programme while the country awaits for the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority to register the J&J vaccine formally in the country.
Pillay was speaking during a webinar hosted by the SA Medical Research Council, Business 4 South Africa and the department.
He said the second phase of the vaccine rollout was expected to commence in May, with vaccine doses for 2.5 million essential workers, 1.1 million people in congregate settings, 5 million people over the age of 60, and 8 million people under over 18 with comorbidities.
Pillay said the definition of who was declared an essential worker was a matter that was receiving serious lobbying from many sectors.
“It is important that we identify those at highest risk first and vaccinate those people first. This is an issue that is subject to lobbying at the level of the minister and many submissions have been made,” he said.
He said those termed essential workers had yet to be determined.
He also said South Africa was expecting to roll out its vaccination drive with Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines, with the rollout expected between the first and second quarters.
“In Phase 3 we will be vaccinating everyone over 18 who did not get vaccinated during Phase 2. J&J and Pfizer vaccines will be used and more vaccines will be procured if necessary,” he said.
Pillay said Phase 1 of the vaccine rollout to health workers had been conducted in the context of a study.
“In the context of a rollout programme, we will have multiple sites for vaccination. We will have clinics, hospitals, pharmacies, GPs, stadia, halls and we will have additional outreach programmes in the rural areas and places like the Northern Cape,” he said.
Pillay also said they could use occupational health clinics at mines as vaccination sites.
“A multi-layered approach to vaccinate will increase our pace for the vaccines to adult South Africans,” he said.
Stavros Nicolaou, of Business 4 South Africa, said the private sector, including medical aid schemes, hospitals, doctors and pharmacies, would procure the vaccines from government.
He said medical aids would offer the vaccine to their members as a prescribed medical benefit.
“Private or public, the objective is to vaccinate as many people as possible.
“We also recognise as business that in order to achieve herd immunity, we need to have a strong commitment towards social responsibility and have an equal distribution of the vaccine.
“The private sector will be buying vaccines from the government in the initial phases… The modalities are yet to be worked out.
“The rollout of the medical schemes have come out and said they will be funding the cost of the vaccine,” he said.
Nicolaou said the private sector had demonstrated capacity to fulfil vaccination programmes in the past, including the administration of 1.3 million flu vaccine doses in a five to six week period last year. This was on top of over 14 million vaccine doses that were administered by the country annually.
He said the private sector could accommodate 200 000 daily vaccine targets and said the use of mobile clinics, stadiums and town halls was another avenue.
“We do have the capacity,” he said.
Professor Glenda Gray said during Phase 2, people would not be required to register through the Sisonke platform, as that platform was only for the first 500 000 doses, which was part of the early access programme.
She said the goal was to eventually accept 10% of walk-ins at vaccination sites during the rollout, but this would likely start at 40%, with the rest expected to go through an appointment process.
“For the big rollout we will need appointment schedules,” she said.
In terms of cold refrigeration storage, she said an audit had been conducted and it was found that there was sufficient capacity, including in rural areas.
An audit has been done for minus-70 degree refrigeration capacity.
“We continue to innovate, we keep on learning and keep on changing processes to become more efficient. We can expect hiccups and hurdles.
“In the last 17 days, every hour we are improving,” she said.
Nicolaou said instances of fraud, corruption and counterfeit vaccine products must be dealt with effectively by law enforcement.
“This is a project of unprecedented scale and complexity. What we must keep upper most in our minds, is that we have no experience with vaccines.
“We administer 14 million per year, most are paediatric. If we add on the private sector capability and the additional measures, there is a lot of work that needs to be done before we get there; we can pull this off as a country.
“We must learn from overseas experiences, the EU is not running smoothly, low uptakes, delivery times not being met. Important that we learn from these experiences,” he said.