The Covid-19 vaccine is here; Now who will get it first?

As SA receives the first batch of Covid-19 vaccines today, the department of health said the first phase will aim to vaccinate all of the country’s frontline healthcare workers across the spectrum – from surgeons to cleaners.

They will be treated in the most part with the Covishield vaccine, which was developed by AstraZeneca and uses viral vector technology to build immunity, the department said. The entry of the vaccine into the body stimulates the immune system to produce antibodies to destroy the virus. When the individual contracts the coronavirus, their immune system recognises the virus and is able to destroy it. The department said the effectiveness of the Covishield vaccine against the virus is rated between 62% and 90%.

Patients will require two doses, up to four to six weeks apart. The government has developed an Electronic Vaccine Data system to streamline the vaccine registration and rollout process. It will allow authorities to capture all relevant data associated with the administration of the vaccine – data that will be stored on a safe database that complies with international security standards. People can register for the vaccine online and will receive a message from the system allocating a date and venue where they can receive their first dose as well as a dedicated vaccination code.

Once the vaccine is administered, the system will record that one has taken the first dose and will notify that person with details of when they may return for a second jab. Experts say SA needs to vaccinate 67% of the adult population, about 40-million people, to achieve herd immunity. Of these, 7.1-million have medical aids and 32,9-million do not and most rely on state facilities.

The department said once a clinical trial shows that a Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective, a series of independent regulators and reviewers will closely study the findings before manufacturing and distribution is approved.

Dr Clare Cutland, a scientific coordinator at the Wits African Leadership in Vaccinology Expertise consortium, said although one dose was considered effective, the second dose has a booster effect that helps the body to build immunity against the virus. The doses could be given weeks or months apart. Twelve weeks are recommended by the ministerial advisory committee.

Sahpra chairperson Prof Helen Rees said it independently evaluates and verifies vaccines efficacy in the country before approving it using high standards that were never compromised even in an emergency situation similar to what SA is facing.

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