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HomeWeekly RoundupMkhize: 1.1m health care workers will be inoculated by end March

Mkhize: 1.1m health care workers will be inoculated by end March

More than 1m of South Africa’s health-care workers can expect to receive a coronavirus shot by the end of March, after the Health Department secured a commitment from Pfizer for an initial tranche of 600,000 doses of its double-shot vaccine, BusinessLIVE reports Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has told parliament.

The government has prioritised health-care workers in its COVID-19 vaccination strategy, as they have been particularly hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic. Close to 700 are known to have died from COVID-19 in the past year, and the health department estimates health-care workers at three to four times greater risk of infection than the general public.

The report says the Pfizer vaccines, combined with the 500,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) single-shot jab already committed to South Africa, would enable 1.1m health-care workers to receive at least one shot by the end of March, said Mkhize.

The initial tranche of Pfizer’s vaccine would be used to vaccinate 600,000 health-care workers, and they would receive their second shot two to three months later, he said. Further supplies are expected in April, he said.

Pfizer’s vaccine is likely to be dispensed in urban areas due to its ultra-cold storage requirements, said Mkhize, emphasising that both vaccines on offer to health-care workers are safe and effective. “Our logistics are going to be based on the (ability to) maintain the stability of the vaccine. The best has been made available to our people,” he said.

Pfizer’s communications manager for East and Southern Africa, Willis Angira, is quoted in the report as saying the company had allocated doses for South Africa and was still negotiating with the government.

 

Daily Maverick reports that the main concern of delegates at the briefing by Mkhize, along with the nine health MECs and the deputy director-general of the Health Department, Dr Anban Pillay, to the National Council of Provinces (NCOP) on the provinces’ state of readiness to roll out the COVID-19 vaccination programme, was why the government is the sole procurer of vaccines and the role of the private sector in the process of storing, distributing and administering the vaccines.

Pillay responded that “almost all” countries have a central procurement approach to COVID-19 vaccines. “If you want to achieve efficiency in procurement, then it is best if government procures on the behalf of all citizens. You want to achieve equity in access to make sure those who need them most get them, and not based on their financial capability.

“There are a number of provisions the manufacturers have relating to the procurement of vaccines… there are liabilities which government must accept and required adverse event reporting. Many of the companies are also not keen to be selling to individuals simply because of these requirements,” he explained. He added that the South African model of distribution is similar to that of many other countries.

“I think it’s important to say that the private sector will be buying the vaccines. Once we procure the vaccines, they will have access to vaccines from us and their needs in terms of volumes will be addressed in the procurement process that we have,” he said. He said that members of the private health sector sit on the national coordinating committee and are part of the decision-making process.

The vaccination campaign is national, therefore the government must take responsibility “for all citizens”, said Mkhize.

“We need to do this in a way which takes into account a sense of justice where the poor and unemployed aren’t marginalised,” he added. He reasserted that most of the manufacturing companies are not likely to sell to individual companies.

“The conditions that are associated with vaccination require someone to take responsibility. It is not possible for a private sector company or a province to make commitments on the indemnities that are being raised and compensation funds. It needs one authority to do that. Those decisions mean government must be the one to focus on procurement.” This, he said, also guarantees a certain standard of vaccines.

“However, government procures and then distributes so the private sector has full access to the vaccines. We are going through this discussion so that the private sector can procure from government, so that’s the basis of the decision. It does not mean we can stop anyone from trying to procure, but the conditions will make it difficult for them to succeed,” said Mkhize.

Daily Maverick reports that both he and Pillay emphasised that the government has at no time gone through an agent or intermediators to procure vaccines. The department has interacted with the manufacturers directly through their local or global offices.

 

By Friday 26 February, 63,648 healthcare workers had received vaccinations against COVID-19 and the sleep-deprived teams providing them had exceeded targets, said Prof Glenda Gray, a co-principal investigator of the Johnson & Johnson implementation study. “We are ahead of the schedule of 80,000 in 14 days. It is going spectacularly and the demand has been overwhelming,” she is quoted in a report in The Times as saying. “We will be ready for the next batch after the weekend.”

The Times reports that major hospital vaccination sites in South Africa include Chris Hani Baragwanath in Soweto, Steve Biko in Pretoria, Groote Schuur in Cape Town and Prince Mshiyeni in eThekwini.

Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, co-principal investigator on the J&J study, said the past 10 days have provided a “taste of what a national vaccination campaign would look like with a lot of moving parts”. “We are on the steepest learning curve with unanticipated conundrums, especially when you are dealing with a rationed commodity and how to provide it fairly,” she said.

The report says the immune response to the vaccine – side-effects such as fatigue, headache or fever – seem to be stronger among people with prior exposure to COVID-19, like many of the health-care workers. “We are seeing stronger reactions to the vaccine than in the trial,” said Gray.

The Times reports that the only complication has been one individual who has allergic reactions to vaccines, as demonstrated with a yellow fever vaccine, but the person was fine after treatment.

 

[link url="https://www.businesslive.co.za/bd/national/health/2021-02-25-state-targets-a-million-jabs-by-end-march/"]Full Business Day report (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.dailymaverick.co.za/article/2021-02-25-private-sector-can-procure-vaccines-from-government-mkhize-tells-national-council-of-provinces/"]Full Daily Maverick report (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2021-02-28-spectacular-progress-on-vaccine-rollout/"]Full report in The Times (Open access)[/link]

 

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