A group of leading scientists and doctors published an open letter yesterday criticising the government for their slow response to securing Covid-19 vaccines for the South African public. With up to 500 people dying every day in the country the issue is incredibly urgent. While it was expected that countries like the United States and the United Kingdom would be the first to start administering the injections, smaller countries like Colombia and Costa Rica have also secured supplies. Two other African countries have secured their own supplies of vaccine - Egypt and Morocco have contracted with AstraZeneca and Sinopharm to supply them with vaccines.
The South African government is relying on their membership of the international Covax initiative which is working to ensure vaccine supplies to smaller, less wealthy countries. In his last speech to the country President Ramaphosa said that South Africa had made their first scheduled payment to Covax and had been informed that we could expect our first vaccine shipment in the 'first quarter' of the year, meaning some time between April and June.
Speaking at a nationally televised briefing on Sunday night Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkihize introduced the members of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines and outlined the plans that they had come up with for the purchasing and then distribution of vaccines to the country.
Mzhize told the country that he is hopeful that we will see the first vaccines arrive in the country in February because of discussions that he and his department have been having with pharmaceutical companies. In addition the Covax project has now said that they should be able to supply stock early in the second quarter - and in fact they are working hard to try to get it to the country sooner than that.
The priority for vaccine distribution was also detailed by Dr Mkhize with frontline health workers receiving the vaccines first. Phase one of the rollout will allocate the first 1,5 million vaccines to healthcare workers. Phase 2 will be for those aged over 60 and those aged over 18 with co-morbidities. Phase 3 of the rollout will be for the remainder of those aged over 18.
Professor Barry Schoub who heads the MAC for Vaccines explained that the plan is to vaccinated 67% of the population which is the number that is believed to be necessary to achieve herd immunity in the country.
However 67% of the total population is also equal to 100% of the adult population of the country. The government plan aims to vaccinate all adults in the country before the end of 2021. It also makes not provision for those who do not wish to receive the vaccine.
The full presentation from the Minister's briefing has been placed online and can be viewed at the SA Coronavirus website