About a year ago, we were reading about the Diamond Princess cruise ship, which reported some of the first known cases of the virus, a total of just over 700 cases. At the time of this article, there have been more than one hundred and five million confirmed cases reported worldwide, and over two million deaths and many have a ‘closer to home experience’ to share.
We are all aware of the safety measures put in place to help contain the spread of the virus. One of the ways to contain an infectious disease is to achieve herd/population immunity, vaccinations have historically played a significant role in this regard and will be used against the spread of Covid-19.
For South Africa to achieve herd immunity, approximately forty million people will need to be vaccinated.
South Africa has received its first batch of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India. The global demand for vaccines, coupled with the greater buying power of wealthier countries, amongst various other theories, has resulted in South Africa lagging behind in the race to vaccinate its population.
Since the arrival of the first batch of the Astra Zeneca vaccines, Dr Zweli Mkhize has announced in a media briefing on Sunday, 07th February 2021, that the roll-out of the vaccine has been put on hold. This is amidst findings from trials conducted indicating the Astra Zeneca vaccines may not have the same effectiveness against the mutated COVID-19 501Y.V2 variant – which is predominant in South Africa.
As the virus mutates, so too will vaccines need to be updated to cater to the various variants. Professor Salim Abdool Karim said in the same briefing, “COVID vaccines remain effective against existing variants. The next set of vaccines will be made from the 501Y.V2 variant and so they are likely to be effective against the 501Y.V2 variant. We are expecting two kinds of vaccines: the first are 501Y.V2 boosters and we have already heard about the good progress they are making on these boosters.”
He indicated that we would take the existing vaccine to give immunity against the existing variants and the 501Y.V2 boosters to protect us from this variant. A broader vaccine that provides cover from current and future variants will take longer to develop.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, writing in an earlier public newsletter, stated that through extensive, albeit ‘protracted’ negotiations with various manufactures, and initiatives with COVAX and AVATT, the country should have sufficient vaccines to contain the spread of the virus.
The findings on the Astra Zeneca vaccine no doubt will delay South Africa’s vaccination program. Experts are predicting a third wave and while South Africa faces a myriad of battles for the acquisition of the vaccine, perhaps its biggest battle is against time.
The roll-out of the vaccine for South Africa will be phased, the basis of the strategy for the vaccine is envisaged to follow the below process:
Every vaccine that will be used in the vaccination programme must be approved by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), which applies strict scientific standards to ensure the safety and efficacy of any drug treatment.
Government has launched its online portal where all South Africans can register for the vaccine. As Phase one kicked off prior to the halting of the roll-out, the platform remains largely aimed at Healthcare workers. However, you can currently register for future phases of the vaccine.
The platform can be accessed via https://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za/#
Vaccination and registration are voluntary. The platform will ultimately be the central control and access point for the vaccine.
The Covid-19 vaccine has been included in the amended Prescribed Minimum Benefit regulations, as approved by Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize. This essentially means the vaccine will need to be funded by medical schemes. It has been reiterated that the vaccine roll-out will be led nationally, there will be one procurement approach and the government will then work with provincial colleagues and the private sector for distribution. There is no opportunity for the private procurement of vaccines at this point.
Medical schemes will ultimately be led by government’s phased approach and Council for Medical Schemes guidelines in the roll-out of the vaccines to its members.
South Africa’s dual-health system has joined forces, resulting in the private sector pledging funding for millions of vaccines for uncovered South Africans, a step in the right direction as the world faces the moral dilemma of equitable access to vaccines.
Dr Tedros, Director-General of the World Health Organisation fittingly said, “No vaccines in history have been developed as rapidly as COVID-19 vaccines. The scientific community has set a new standard for vaccine development. Now the international community must set a new standard for access globally.”
PLEASE NOTE: During the podcast, Paramesh Dayaram stated that there were only 1,5 million COVID cases recorded. He apologises for there are in fact 105 million confirmed cases recorded worldwide.
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(FSP no. 13909)