South Africa has officially received its first shipment of one million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines.
The Emirates cargo carrying the first batch of the lifesaving jabs from India touched down at OR Tambo International Airport on Monday afternoon.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, together with his Deputy David Mabuza, who chairs the Inter-Ministerial Committee on Vaccines, witnessed the momentous occasion.
Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, flanked the two leaders.
Plastic-wrapped bundles of the in-demand vaccine were off-loaded from the plane into the unmarked refrigerated trucks.
The jabs were then transported to a cold room lab where they will undergo quality checks, which may take between 10 and 14 days.
This is before government can kick start its three-phase mass inoculation campaign where healthcare workers are first in line to receive the jab in the next coming weeks.
Clad in a reflective safety vest, President Ramaphosa accepted the receipt of the vaccine, which was met by cheers and applause from his delegation, before his official convoy whisked him away.
South Africa procured 1.5 million vaccines from the Serum Institute of India (SII), licensed to produce a vaccine that has been developed by the multinational pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical company, AstraZeneca, in collaboration with the University of Oxford.
The second batch is scheduled to arrive later in the month.
According to government, Biovac will play an important role in the quality assurance, warehousing and distribution of COVID-19 vaccines.
President Ramaphosa has described the consignment as the start of the vaccine rollout, which he describes as the largest and most complex logistical vaccine undertaking in South Africa’s history.
“The scale of delivery is unprecedented in terms of the number of people who have to be reached within a short space of time.”
Government said the goal of the vaccination programme is to achieve immunity across the population.
The State aims to vaccinate 40 million South Africans to ensure that the population has the immunity it needs to fight COVID-19, which has already claimed over 44 000 lives in the country.
The first phase of this rollout programme will prioritise around 1.2 million frontline health workers.
Meanwhile, government is coordinating the vaccine programme through the committee chaired by Deputy President Mabuza, which is focused on procurement, distribution, actual vaccination, monitoring, communication and mobilisation.
In an interview with Newzroom Afrika, Mkhize said government will not announce every step of its plans.
“However, just to say that we’re going to give these doses as the first dose to everybody. So, up to 1.5 million people must get those doses before they’re even finished we’ll have enough vaccines to cover the second dose and then we’ll move to the next level.”
Mkhize said the second phase will last for about six months.
“Actually, we’re trying to overlap the phases, so that even by the end of the three months, we’re able to start on the next group of frontline workers, teachers, police, taxi drivers, social workers, and municipal workers – everyone who works in the setting where they could be sitting and serving the community and someone could unknowingly infect them.”
He told the news channel that this group includes those living with underlying health conditions, such as HIV and tuberculosis.
The Health Department has estimated that there are about 16 million people in this category.
Thereafter, inoculation will be open to every South African.
“But this is to say those who’ve got a risk of getting infection must be attended to first because this is a fair distribution. The elderly will come on the second category and that will hopefully come earlier,” he added.