Government's efforts to get the Covid-19 vaccination ball rolling have been mired in hiccups, but things will improve as more doses become available.
Discovery Health predicts that South Africa’s slow Covid-19 vaccine rollout will improve significantly in the third quarter, as more vaccine doses are expected to be come available from later this month.
The medical aid group’s Sandton vaccination site has seen 33,000 people vaccinated as of Wednesday while nearly 1,2 million people have been vaccinated since the start of the rollout earlier this year.
Government’s efforts to get the ball rolling amid the third wave of Covid-19 infections have been mired in hiccups, from the disastrous procurement of over a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine weeks before their expiry date, to the halting of a batch of doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine produced in an Eastern Cape Aspen Pharmacare plant.
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The latter has been shelved due to a continuing US probe into the possible contamination of a key ingredient in the vaccine, which has implications for the SA stock.
South Africa awaits guidance from the US Food and Drug Authority (FDA) and from the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) regarding the clearance of the J&J vaccine for use in South Africa.
According to Discovery spokesperson Ronald Whalen, the speed of South Africa’s mass vaccination programme is currently constrained by availability of vaccines nationally.
While challenges in the the quantity of vaccines scheduled for delivery in the second quarter of this year were expected, this has been compounded by the unfortunate delays in the release of the J&J vaccine.
At this stage, he says, the delays in the release of the J&J vaccine are a significant constraint on accelerating the rollout with available vaccines having to be carefully rationed across vaccination sites countrywide.
But there is a silver lining.
South Africa has secured approximately 1,3 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine through COVAX, scheduled for delivery during the third or fourth week of June, Whalen points out. This is in addition to supplies directly procured through Pfizer, which should alleviate some of the pressure as a result of the delays in the delivery of J&J vaccines.
Clearance by the FDA and SAHPRA is also likely to result in the release of over two million doses of the J&J vaccine almost immediately, and a further approximately three million doses for delivery between July and August, Whalen predicts based in existing schedules.
“As the J&J vaccine only requires a single dose, there would be sufficient vaccine available to vaccinate a further 5 million people, significantly speeding up the National Mass Vaccination Programme.”
The vaccine supply pipeline is also anticipated to improve during the third quarter of the year, between July and September. This is when deliveries of the Pfizer vaccines are projected to increase significantly.
“Should there be additional doses available from J&J at this stage, South Africa’s vaccine supply should be robust, allowing for accelerated commissioning and activation of vaccination sites countrywide.”