The delivery of 700 000 doses of Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccines on Saturday morning has been received with relief as it will boost government’s vaccination programme as it races against time to inoculate as many citizens as it can before the third wave.
Yesterday, according to the department of health (DoH) statistics, the cumulative number of Covid-19 cases in the country stood at 1 538 451. Eighty five more people died from the Covid-19 pushing the total death rate to 52 196. Recoveries stood at 1 463 953, which translates into a recovery rate of 95%.
To date, 182 983 healthcare workers have been vaccinated as part of the first phase of government’s vaccination programme since February this year. But the rate of the vaccination has raised concerns and frustrations among citizens and experts alike as they fear the country will not reach its herd immunity target of vaccinating 67% of the population.
They said the delay to jab more people will not only lead to more infections and deaths but it also means tighter lockdown regulations which will further impact the country’s economy and thus livelihoods of more people.
But President Cyril Ramaphosa gave an assurance that the vaccination programme is on track, saying government has signed an agreement with J&J to secure 11 million more doses. Of these doses, 2.8 million doses will be delivered in the second quarter while the remainder will be spread throughout the year, said Ramaphosa.
The country has also obtained 20 million doses from Pfizer, which will be delivered from the second quarter, and 12 million vaccine doses from the Covax facility. The country is also busy wrapping up discussions around dose allocation from the African Union.
In addition, government has budgeted R9billion to fund the free Covid-19 vaccination programme in the medium term. In total the costs of the vaccine rollout currently stand at R10.3 billion. It is anticipated all these initiatives will expedite the inoculation process in the second half of the year.
Some experts are calling for the involvement of the private players to increase the pace of the vaccination roll out. Discovery Health chief executive Ryan Noach said the biggest stumbling block, however, is that vaccine manufacturers do not allow private players to procure directly.
He said they are eager and ready to help government vaccinate as many people as possible before the end of 2021. He also noted that another major difficulty is the shortage of vaccines globally, adding that they are supporting government to engage directly with global manufacturers to make stock available that can be procured centrally.
Meanwhile, minister of health Dr Zweli Mkhize announced that the sale of Astra Zeneca vaccines has been concluded and the African Union vaccine acquisition team has identified nine members to benefit from the sale.
In a statement released on Sunday, Mkhize said the DoH has been working hard to ensure that the recipient countries meet all the necessary requirements. These include, chiefly, that the countries are competent and have obtained all the regulatory approvals, permits and licenses to roll out the vaccines in their own countries.
He said the balance of the vaccines will be collected this week and these will benefit five other countries. But Mkhize did not divulge the names of the recipient countries and how much they vaccines were purchased for.
South Africa acquired one million doses of the Astra Zeneca-Oxford Covid-19 vaccines earlier this year from Serum India Institute. But it abruptly stopped the use of the vaccines after data from the local trial showed it was not effective against mild and moderate symptoms of the more contagious South African variant, also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351.