South Africa’s first shipment of the Covid-19 vaccine is due to arrive today, but there are still many questions looming about the procurement processes, costs, efficacy, as well as a growing wave of conspiracy theories.
Two months after the first Pfizer-BioNTech Covid-19 vaccine was first administered in the United States and a month after the United Kingdom began its rollout of the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical giant, AstraZeneca, the arrival of the vaccines from the Serum Institute of India have been deemed “a massive achievement of unprecedented proportions” by Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize, according to Al Jazeera.
First, vaccines will undergo quality checks for 10-14 days, and doses will then be sent out to be administered in a three-phased rollout plan, starting with the inoculation of frontline healthcare workers, then other high-risk groups like the elderly, people with co-morbidities and essential workers. Phase three will target everyone else over the age of 18.
When quizzed about the reasons for the delay caused by the government, Dr Anban Pillay said that they “could not procure a vaccine without knowing that it is effective, safe and when it would be delivered. This info only became available in December for some vaccines. We had to wait to have this info before we make a financial commitment.”
Furthermore, the price of $5.25 per shot that South Africa (the worst affected African country) will be paying for the Covid-19 vaccine is $2 higher than the cost negotiated by the African Union (AU) negotiated for other African countries. Al Jazeera also reports that 21 million shots of the Pfizer and Johns&Johnson vaccines have been secured through the WHO’s COVAX scheme, the AU and other collective programs, along with bilateral deals with suppliers.
With Mkhize confirming an order of another 20 million shots, more than 40 million doses will be supplied by the government, with the aim to immunise 40 million South Africans (±65% of the total population) by the end of the year.
“These vaccines are secured and awaiting manufacturers to submit final agreements with details of delivery dates and exact amounts,” he said.
Professor Barry Schoeb, Chair of the MAC on Covid-19 said the country prioritised the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine because it “is the one that was immediately available”, while Mkhize says the efficiency of the rollout will depend on “a whole lot of factors”, warning that “many other countries are currently not getting the supplies they ordered”.
Another major barrier to South Africa’s vaccination process is the prevalence of the new strain of Covid-19, the potent 501Y.V2 variant, which is significantly more transmissible and some studies are showing that it coulds be more resistant to the vaccines that have already been developed. The efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine against the new variant. What’s even more worrying, however, is the spread of misinformation.
“We are going to ensure that there is adequate information available to the communities to remove the doubts about the vaccines,” said Mkhize.
The government has launched a social media campaign, with hashtags such as #VacciNation and #ListenToTheExperts being used to debunk false rumours about Covid-19 and the vaccine.
“People are scared. They talk about 5G, triple 6 and microchips,” said a nurse working at a clinic near central Johannesburg. According to the nurse’s information, online training of nurses will begin on Monday.
“Healthcare workers have not been informed enough about the vaccine,” said Sibongiseni Delihlaso, from the Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa.
“It is them who will be driving this on the ground. How are these people going to convince patients to get the vaccine if they are not convinced?”