Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, believes that South Africa is right on track to roll out its vaccination campaign, which is due to start in a few days.
Addressing Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health on Friday, Mkhize said the country is ready to give the first COVID-19 jabs to healthcare workers once the vaccines have undergone quality assurance checks.
He has described Monday, 1 February, as an exciting day after the country received its first consignment of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines from India.
“We have indicated that one of the major forms of prevention is the provision of vaccines in order to create immunity amongst our people,” he said.
However, the Minister admitted that is has been a challenging exercise to manage the issue of vaccines, as many nations scrambled to get their hands on them.
“The global demand is the same for every country throughout the whole world. Everything is happening at the same time for every country, so that creates its own dynamics.”
The Minister said the State has had to contend with the fact that not all vaccines have their efficacy results out.
However, Mkhize has assured the committee that government is on course for the vaccination programme.
He told the members that government is still committed to immunising 40 million people in the country.
Mkhize said government is working with everyone including the private sector and labour to ensure that their response is coordinated.
He said the vaccines are currently stored at Biovac and also at centres across the country where cold chain conditions are observed.
Security and training
Meanwhile, the State has beefed up security, while hundreds of healthcare workers have been trained to administer the jab.
Government has also roped in religious, traditional and civil society leaders for support.
Mkhize acknowledged that there will be hurdles as the country prepares for its largest inoculation drive, citing other countries where there have been breakages of vehicles or freezers.
“We must say that it’s not going to be a smooth process and that there will be mistakes, stop-start issues, and issues of new lessons and challenges. All of that it will be taken in our stride.”
He said government will continue with its phased approach, which will see healthcare workers being first in line to receive the life-saving vaccines.
Phase one, which is expected to be concluded after three months, includes everyone who deals with the sick in hospitals, clinics, universities, research bodies and traditional healers.
Mkhize encouraged frontline workers to register online for vaccination.
The second phase will include essential workers such as teachers, the police, the elderly and those living with underlying health conditions.
Government hopes to reach 16.5 million people after the first two phase of vaccination and the rest of the population will be vaccinated in the third phase.
Mkhize announced that the State is expecting to receive nine million jabs from Johnson & Johnson, 20 million from Pfizer, 12 million from COVAX.
Meanwhile, government is also engaging with China, the Gamaleya Institute for Epidemiology and Microbiology in Russia and Moderna.
“They are also finalising more deals and will be announced in due course,” he said.
Part of government’s work to produce its own vaccines is also underway.
Meanwhile, the State is working around the clock to limit risk and prevent fraud and corruption by working with different arms of government.
“In the issue of theft, government and medical aids will pay for [the vaccine] – there should be no one paying for it.
“If there’s no payment, it limits the black market,” the Minister said.