President Cyril Ramaphosa told the public, during his address on Monday, the 1st of February, about the arrival of the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines which he received together with the Deputy President David Mabuza, Minister of Health Dr Zwelini Mkhize and Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
Ramaphosa said one million doses of the Covishield vaccine which have been produced by the Serum Institute in India, arrived at OR Tambo International Airport earlier that day. He said the vaccine was developed by a pharmaceutical company called AstraZeneca together with the University of Oxford and that South Africa was one of the countries where clinical trials were held to assess the drug’s efficacy.
“Now that the vaccines have arrived, they will be tested at the National Control Laboratory to confirm that their integrity has been maintained during transportation. After testing, they will be distributed across the country to thousands of our healthcare workers who every day put their own lives at risk to save others. We must ensure their protection as they fight for ours,” said the president.
“In accordance with our phased rollout strategy, all healthcare workers in the public and private sectors will be prioritised for vaccination. Provincial health departments have submitted their distribution plans and we have identified about 200 facilities to which the vaccines can be distributed. Once we have completed the vaccination of healthcare workers, we will move to Phase 2 of the national vaccine strategy, which will include essential workers, people over 60 years, people with co-morbidities as well as those living in places such as nursing homes and hostels,” he added.
He also announced that the rest of the adult will be vaccinated during Phase 3. He said the Department of Health has developed an Electronic Vaccine Data System to streamline the vaccine registration and rollout process, which will allow capturing of all relevant data associated with the administration of the vaccine.
Ramaphosa said the system allows a person to make an appointment as soon as they qualify for a vaccination at the vaccine centre closest to them and it will record vaccinations as they are administered. He also announced that the country is sourcing vaccines from a number of suppliers.
“In addition to the 1 million Covishield doses that we received today; we expect another 500,000 doses from the Serum Institute of India to arrive later in February. We have secured 12 million doses in total from the global COVAX facility, which has indicated that it will release approximately 2 million doses by March,” said Ramaphosa.
“We have secured 9 million vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, commencing with delivery in the second quarter. Johnson & Johnson has contracted Aspen, one of our pharmaceutical companies, to manufacture these vaccines in South Africa. In addition, Pfizer has committed 20 million vaccine doses commencing with deliveries in the second quarter,” he added.
The president said the country is in advanced negotiations with manufacturers to secure additional supplies. He said it will also receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union, which has been negotiating with manufacturers to secure vaccines for the entire continent. He also mentioned that one billion vaccines have been secured for the whole continent through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union.
He said seven hundred million of these will come from the global COVAX facility and 300 million from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team. Ramaphosa said other vaccines will be donated by various private sector companies to add to the vaccines that the continent needs.
“MTN, which is one of our companies that operates across a number of countries on the African continent, has made a donation of $25 million to procure 7 million vaccines, which will be made available to countries on the African continent within a matter of weeks. I would like to applaud MTN for this generous donation and I call upon private sector companies to follow the example of MTN,” said the president.
The president also said that the country aims to secure enough doses to achieve ‘herd immunity’, which is also known as ‘population immunity’. He explained that this is when enough of the population is immune to the virus to provide indirect protection to those who are not immune, bringing the spread of the virus under control.
He said scientists estimate that herd immunity will be reached once around 67% of the people are immune, which amounts to around 40 million people in South Africa. He promised that the government will ensure that enough vaccine doses are secured to reach population immunity in the country.
“We all want to be free of this disease. We all want to be safe, and for those we love to be safe. We aim to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status. We will be putting in place measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history.It is in the best interests of all that as many of us receive the vaccine as possible,” he said.
“But I want to be clear. Nobody will be forced to take this vaccine. Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated. Nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, nor will the vaccine be administered in secret. Any rumours to this effect are both false and dangerous,” said Ramaphosa.