Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Health minister Zweli Mkhize. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

The first doses of Covid-19 vaccines procured by the government from the Serum Institute of India (SII) will arrive in SA on Monday, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Wednesday night.

"I am pleased to announce that the flight will leave India on January 31, fly via Dubai and land at OR Tambo on Monday February 1," he said.

It would then take between 10 and 14 days for the vaccines to be cleared by SA’s medicines regulator, before being distributed to the provinces.

SA has the biggest recorded Covid-19 outbreak in Africa, with more than 1.4-million confirmed cases and close to 42,000 deaths, yet it has been slow to secure vaccines and join the biggest global immunisation drive in history.

As of Wednesday, 57 countries had collectively administered 71.3-million doses of coronavirus vaccines, according to Bloomberg. Israel is leading the race and has already administered at least one shot of a two-dose regimen to more than 30% of its population. But across most of Africa the shots are still months away.

The government has secured upwards of 30-million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, including 1.5-million doses of AstraZeneca’s shot procured from SII earmarked for healthcare workers. The first 1-million are due to arrive on February 1, with 500,000 due for delivery later in the month.

The government has also secured up to 12-million doses from international vaccine financing vehicle Covax, depending on whether it provides single-shot or two-dose vaccines, the first tranche of which is due to arrive in February. There will be 12.25-million doses from the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team, of which the first 2-million will flow between March and June; and another 9-million doses from Johnson & Johnson.

The government plans to vaccinate 67% of the population, approximately 40-million people, by the end of the year in order to achieve herd immunity. The three-stage plan aims to vaccinate about 1.2-million health-care workers in phase 1, followed by people over the age of 60, essential workers, and those with underlying conditions that make them more vulnerable to severe illness in phase 2. Remaining adults will be vaccinated in stage 3.

State-backed vaccine manufacturer Biovac will distribute the vaccines to the provinces, which will then manage the process of administering the shots.

Western Cape head of health Keith Cloete said earlier in the day that the national health department had determined that allocations would be based on the number of health-care workers in each province. Since there would not initially be enough shots to vaccinate all health-care workers, those working in direct contact with patients would be prioritised.

Vaccines are widely regarded as the best hope of ending the coronavirus pandemic, which has seen more than 100-million recorded cases and more than 2.1-million deaths in the past year. Governments around the world have scrambled to slow transmission of the virus, instituting travel restrictions and lockdowns that triggered the worst economic decline since the Great Depression.

SA’s economy contracted by more than 7% last year, according to the Reserve Bank.


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