Private sector pledges to help government boost vaccination rollout

Amanda Khoza Presidency reporter
The private sector has pledged its full support for the government’s national vaccination rollout..
BREAKING THE SURFACE The private sector has pledged its full support for the government’s national vaccination rollout..
Image: Thapelo Morebudi/Sunday Times

The private sector on Friday pledged its full support for the government’s national vaccination rollout.

In a webinar held by Business for SA (B4SA), experts discussed the launch of the government’s electronic vaccination data system and the temporary suspension of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The private sector says it has the capability to vaccinate about 163,000 people per day, which will assist the government which has been criticised for the slow pace of the vaccination rollout.

Chair of B4SA’s steering committee, Martin Kingston said a meeting was held with the government and it was agreed that a joint strategic oversight committee should be established.

“What we have done is made sure that we mesh the work and that does not mean that as business we did not need to formulate our own position. But, in the interest of ensuring that we can achieve the objective of commencing the objective of the phase 2 rollout in the middle of May, starting with the over 60s, that we have all our systems ready and are good to go,” he said.

The purpose of the committee — chaired by health director-general Dr Sandile Buthelezi and Treasury director-general Dondo Mogajane — is to address any bottlenecks that may arise.

Giving progress on the phase 1 health-care worker vaccination and vaccine supply, chair of B4SA’s health working group Stavros Nicolaou welcomed the launch of the phase 2 registration on the EVDS system.

“The opening of phase 2 registration will run concurrently with phase 1A Sisonke trial which is currently on pause and of course the phase 1B commercial allocation of vaccine doses. Phase 1 covers the health-care workers and we aim to complete the vaccination of health-care workers during May,” he said.

He said hopefully before the advent of a third wave, the majority of health-care workers would have been vaccinated. To date around 300,000 health-care workers have been vaccinated.

“We expect the vaccination programme to ramp up significantly in the coming weeks as we move out of the Sisonke implementation study which, like all studies, takes longer to deploy because of the onerous study requirement associated with such study conditions,” he said.

Nicolaou said SA had been “extremely restricted” with the number of vaccination sites where health-care workers could be vaccinated and this will open up to many more facilities as the country moved into phase 2.

He said the country was moving swiftly to increase capacity and the increased delivery of the vaccines meant that the process could accelerate.

This week, health minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the government has secured an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which was a dual dose regimen, which meant that it would cover an additional five million lives, said Nicolaou.

“This means the government has successfully secured just over 62 million doses. This includes 31 million J&J single dose vaccines and 30 million Pfizer BioNTech double dose vaccines which will arrive in our country over the course of the year,” he said.

Nicolaou said the remaining 1.5 million vaccines — that constitutes the 62 million — will arrive under the Covax initiative.

The government also announced that SA would be receiving Sinopharm and Sputnik V vaccines and both of these were at registration phase with the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra), he said, adding that there were no further details on the supply and delivery schedules for the two vaccines.

Speaking on the recent temporary halt of the J&J vaccine, Prof Barry Jacobson, president of the Southern African Society of Thrombosis and Haemostasis urged Sahpra to lift the suspension.

Jacobson said: “This week a report came out saying there was this rare incidence of thrombosis in the veins of the brain and in the veins around the stomach that was caused by the J&J vaccine.”

While he appreciated the fact that the decision to pause the rollout was done until more information was obtained — “I think they now have all the relevant information and they need to stop this halt because the risk is very, very rare.”

Putting it into perspective, he said: “The risk of being struck by lightning is in the region of one in 500,000. The risk of developing this particular clotting is in the region of one in a million so theoretically, you’d need to be struck by lightning twice to equate to this very rare case of thrombosis.”

Speaking on the newly launched government registration portal, chief-director and national programme manager of the EVDS, Milani Wolmarans, said the registration process was important because it allowed the department to streamline processes.

Wolmarans encouraged South Africans to register in their numbers.

“I just want to give assurance to the public that we as the government are the owner of this system and as the department of health, we are taking responsibility to protect everybody’s information. We have put everything in place to ensure that the information is securely stored and that there is no unauthorised sharing of information,” said Wolmarans.

The system is solid, she said.

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