Western Cape Premier Alan Winde insists that the province has the right to buy extra Covid-19 vaccines separately for its citizens if its wants to, as the province comes out of the latest surge and gears up for the first round of vaccinations.
“I have noted what the national Minister of Health has said,” Winde said regarding his stance on getting extra vaccines for people living in the Western Cape.
“We have also got legal opinion that says there’s nothing that precludes us from procuring. I know this is not easy. The whole world is trying to find vaccines at the moment.”
Winde was speaking at a weekly briefing on the pandemic in the province, where indicators showed that the province’s surge was flattening out, with fewer new cases and deaths reported.
The next surge was expected either in March or April, but in the meantime, it was forging ahead with its part in the preparations for the national vaccine drive.
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said they did not know yet what the province’s vaccine allocation would be of the first delivery of one million doses, but it could be around 100,000, based on a formula that might be used.
But Mbombo expressed concern over “science denialism” and conspiracy theories, some from public figures and influencers which might discourage people from being vaccinated.
She said they were not naive about the potential for adverse effects, and that systems were in place for this possibility.
“People forget that in the whole of the decade throughout we have been vaccinating children in many, more than five of the diseases, that are the biggest killers of these children during these times.”
She said travellers still vaccinated for yellow fever; people who had been stabbed were vaccinated against tetanus, and that there had been no anti-oxygen or anti-ventilation movement.
She added that the vaccine would not be compulsory, but it was also people’s democratic right to have a vaccine.
Dr Keith Cloete, head of the province’s health department, called the vaccine the “most powerful global weapon” to turn the tide of the pandemic.
He said the Western Cape government was aligned with the national Department of Health’s efforts to get the vaccine for South Africa, and its own planning committees were already working on the logistics, as well as a campaign to explain how it would all work, and what was in the vaccine.
He explained that the vaccine expected in South Africa by the end of January would be one million doses of Covishield, followed by another 500 000 doses in February.
It’s produced by the Serum Institute of India and based on the research of Astra-Zeneca with Oxford University.
It costs around USD4 a dose, and two doses would be required.
It was tested on over 11,000 people, with half receiving the vaccine sample.
Of the half who received the vaccine in the trial, 30 developed a milder form of Covid-19, and there were no hospitalisations or deaths.
Of the other half who did not receive the vaccine, 101 people contracted Covid-19, 10 were hospitalised, and one person died.
“The biggest difference is that 30 people got a much milder form of Covid,” said Cloete.
Common side effects are: discomfort around the upper arm injection site; flu-like symptoms which are not Covid-19, but the immune system reacting to the vaccine and the antibodies in the body forming.
He said the best protection was expected three weeks after the second dose, but masks and social distancing and avoiding confined spaces was here to stay until between 70% to 80% of the population was immune to the virus.
He said the virus was expected to continue mutating, and that the Western Cape was expecting its next surge in March or April.
The first to be offered the vaccination would be health workers in the public and private sector, health sciences students, care workers, community health workers and traditional healers.
Phase two would be around 1.9 million essential service workers, people in “congregate settings”, people older than 60, and people over 18 with co-morbidities.
Phase three would be for around 2.9 million people older than 18 and ultimately about five million people would have to be vaccinated in the Western Cape.
The distribution, stock management and tracking progress was being put together.
An extra 50 fridges have been purchased, and another 50 ordered to store the vaccine.
It would be coordinated from Cloete’s office via a private sector advisory committee, an expert advisory committee and the National Vaccine Coordinating Committee that Cloete sits on.
Their communication programme would focus on addressing concerns, and specifically misinformation.
He said that unless the anti-parisitic medication Ivermectin gets official approval, it would not be used.
In a poll among 1,600 healthcare workers, 54% said they would definitely take it, 26% said maybe with more information, and 19% said they would not.
Of those who said yes, one of the responses was “suffering will stop”.