The first batch of 80 000 doses of Johnson &Johnson (J&J) vaccines, which arrived yesterday at the OR Tambo airport, are ready to be administered on Wednesday afternoon after they were distributed overnight to 17 sites across the country’s nine provinces.
In terms of the department of health’s roll-out plans, healthcare workers will be the first in line to be vaccinated. Thousands of them have already been trained on how to administer the vaccine.
Many of the health care workers welcome the roll-out of the vaccine saying this will not only provide them the much-needed protection against the virus but it will also lessen pressure on both the health staff and hospital facilities in the country.
The department of health said it intends to ramp up the vaccination programme to ensure it reaches ‘herd population’ threshold before another third variant of the virus hits again.
Health minister Dr Zweli Khize on Tuesday gave an assurance at that South Africa has successfully secured enough stock of the J&J doses to vaccine all the citizens who will need to vaccinated in the country.
He said they are expecting an additional 500,000 doses to arrive in the country in the next four weeks. He added that this will be augmented by another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that is expected towards the end of March 2021.
On Tuesday Mkhize told parliament that the J&J vaccine has been chosen as a replacement to AstraZeneca because it has 57% efficacy against the 501Y.V2 variant and is fully protective against serious illness or death.
Said Mkhize: “We will be doing this under a protocol which we have dubbed as ‘Sisonke’ – this protocol will allow us to survey the vaccination of health care workers and will further add to our understanding of the impact of mass vaccination.”
The immediate roll-out of phase one vaccination with J&J through the Sisonke protocol, added Mkhize, has been made possible by the fact that the 300,000 doses of the now proven and efficacious J&J vaccine were already tested and approved by SAHPRA for use under study conditions.
He also refuted reports that the AstraZeneca vaccine, which was found to be less effective against the new variant, will be returned to Serum Institute India.
Experts warned against throwing the AstraZeneca vaccine away, saying it could still be used to prevent severe diseases and death despite its limitations in combating the second wave of the virus.
Meanwhile, the latest health department’s statistics indicated that two hundred and nineteen more people have died in the country after contracting the coronavirus. These latest fatalities, which were recorded over the past 24 hours, have bumped the national death rate to 48, 313
The department said 1,210 infections were also recorded and this brings the country’s cumulative number of caseload to 1,494. The infections are attributed to three provinces: Gauteng is still ahead with the highest number of infections. It is followed by KwaZulu-Natal and then the Western Cape.
On the positive side, the country’s recovery rate is nearing 93.5%, with almost 1,397,000 people having recuperated so far.