Health minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, last week Thursday announced that South Africa will receive 1.5 million doses of the vaccines from Serum Institute of India (SII).
South Africa is scheduled to receive its vaccines through the WHO-endorsed COVAX facility – a global distribution scheme designed to cater for under-developed countries. But this can only be expected in the second quarter of 2021 for 10% of its population of 58 million.
This sparked outrage from health experts and healthcare workers that government lacked urgency in procuring COVID-19 vaccines to start inoculating the population, particularly in the face of the recent surges caused by the new variant of the coronavirus.
South Africa’s COVID-19 cases have been increasing at an alarming rate resulting in the country breaking its new daily infections. Daily infections have exceeded 20 000 mark pushing the total tally of cases to well over a million while the mortality rate has also surpassed 30 000.
Briefing parliament portfolio committee on heath, minister Mkhize said the first one million doses will be delivered this month while another 500 doses are expected next month.
“Our teams at the department of health (DoH) and the South African Healthcare Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) were fine-tuning and aligning all the regulations and processes to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays or regulatory impediments to activate the roll-out of the vaccine. We are all happy that the SII and AstraZenca vaccine has already been approved by various regulators and is being rolled-out. Sahpra is applying reliance on that regulatory framework,” said Mkhize.
He did not provide further details on the deal, saying the focus of his briefing was meant to “make public the announcement and start engaging with the relevant stakeholders in preparation for the roll-out”.
Mkhize said they have prioritised 1.25 million of healthcare workers both in public and private sectors, adding that they plan to vaccinate up to 40 million people over a year to reach herd immunity.
Meanwhile, SII’s chief executive officer, Adar Poonawalla, sounded confident saying their vaccine is “highly effective against novel coronavirus”. SII is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume. The 55 year-old biotechnology and Pharmaceuticals Company, joined hands with British-Swedish drug-maker (Oxford-AstraZeneca), to produce 1 billion doses of its COVID-19 vaccine, whose local version is known as Covishield.
He said priority will be given to COVAX countries – low and middle-income countries most of which are in Africa. Poonawalla said: “The COVID-19 vaccine will be distributed initially in India, and then we will look at the COVAX countries which are mainly in Africa,” adding that “The United Kingdom and European markets are being taken care of by AstraZeneca and Oxford.”
Poonawalla said compared to the vaccines by United States drug-makers Pfizer and Moderna, Covishield is “logistically feasible for distribution in the country’s both urban and rural parts as it can be stored at two to eight degrees Celsius.” Pfizer vaccine needs to be kept under extremely cold temperatures: minus 70 degrees Celsius, which is reportedly colder than winter in Antarctica. Moderna has said that its vaccine needs to be frozen too, but only at minus 20 Celsius, more like a regular freezer