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No need to panic, the vaccines are on the way - Mkhize

But vaccine should not replace masks, sanitising and social distancing

Health minister Zweli Mkhize could not confirm delivery date of the Covid-19 vaccines, but said there is no need for panic as all processes are under way.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize could not confirm delivery date of the Covid-19 vaccines, but said there is no need for panic as all processes are under way.
Image: Sandile Ndlovu

South Africans will have to continue applying Covid-19 preventive measures even after the targeted 67% of the population has been vaccinated, says health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize.

In an exclusive interview with TimesLIVE, Mkhize said: “While we are targeting 67% for herd immunity, it could happen that we are in the middle of another wave when we achieve that and many people will still be at risk, so we will have to continue with containment until it's safe.

“The use of masks, sanitising and social distancing cannot stop because we are vaccinating or have fully vaccinated,” Mkhize explained. 

Last week Mkhize announced that SA would be receiving the first batch of the AstraZeneca vaccine in January 2021 and another the next month. 

Asked when we would receive the first batch, Mkhize said there were no dates yet. However, he emphasised that that did not mean there is a crisis or the vaccines may not arrive this month.

“What the companies do is they give you an offer and a time which they can deliver you a vaccine based on their stock availability. Once you sign that offer, they will then give you details of various issues that you need to take into account, that has to go to lawyers. Once that agreement has been signed, they will send you a letter with a date of dispatching, when the vaccine will land on your side, what mode of transport will be used.”

Mkhize said for SA’s acquisition process, the government was awaiting a letter from the pharmaceutical company providing them with a vaccine arrival date. 

“The first agreement was signed and that is what is important. The first process is signing the offer, which we have done. Then details of when you signed the full agreement, you don't need to get into that because its an internal process that once its been done you will get your letter. It changes nothing, the arrival date will be within the broad agreement of the terms,” he said. 

Mkhize added that a letter indicating vaccine date arrival could take a day, a few days or a week but insisted that the key is that this is urgent, so everything should be sorted within a week, for SA.

To allay fears that the government plans include Johnson & Johnson, whose third-phase trials have not been completed to confirm the vaccine's efficacy, Mkhize said that was no need for panic as “J&J is far advanced in their process and we expect that their results will be confirmed in a matter of a week or two and that is the deadline they have given.”

“When the results come out, we don't want to be too late because we did not book and we are too far back in the queue. The amount we have asked is not ideal and we should ask for more, but we had to book a certain amount which will fit with our rollout plan and later, once the results come out, we will probably put in an additional order,” he said. 

“There are quite a lot of other things we are involved in but we have to be careful. We can't be giving out everything when the other side has not committed in writing.” 

Mkhize said his department was also aware that the manufacturer had made a submission to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).

“We expect that Sahpra will be able to deal with their registration and while we wait for registration we should also place an order, which is what we have just done.”

Currently, there is no model or concrete information to indicate when, or if, a third wave is going to come, or if there will be a fourth wave of the virus.

Due to the unpredictability, Mkhize said the government has a plan to deal with a resurgence if it occurs during the vaccination period, and that capacity to contain a resurgence and not halt vaccinations is available. 

“The approach is we will not stop with all the containment measures. People must be safe. Even if others are already immunised, you [must] get vaccinated and once immunity is developed, you are most likely not to be infected.

“However, you may still be a source of infection. If a vaccinated person touches a surface that has a droplet with the virus, you can pass it on to someone who has not been vaccinated. Therefore we will have to continue with preventive measures until we are safe,” he explained. 

SA has secured:

  • 1.5 million vaccine doses from AstraZeneca;
  • 12 million from Covax; and
  • nine million from Johnson & Johnson.

Those are expected to be rolled out in three phases over a period of 12 months to cover 40% of the population. However, Mkhize said there were no fixed terms for the particular phases.

“We are working on a broad guide that says we will be done with the first phase within a three-month period, the following six months we must also be done with the second, and then the third phase should come after that. But they could overlap, depending on how many vaccines we are able to order,” said Mkhize. 

The minister also expects the rollout to have less glitches and the vaccination system to “mature” as the process moves along.


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