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Hard work lies ahead with SA vaccine rollout, says SAHPRA

The acquisition of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India was announced by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Thursday.

A handout picture released by the University of Oxford on 23 November 2020 shows a technician working on the University's COVID-19 candidate vaccine, co-invented by the University of Oxford and Vaccitech in partnership with pharmaceutical giant AstraZeneca. Picture: John Cairns/University of Oxford/AFP

JOHANNESBURG – While South Africans, healthcare workers and experts on Thursday celebrated the announcement that 1.5 million COVID-19 vaccines were being sent our way, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said hard work lay ahead to ensure everyone was safe.

The acquisition of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India was announced by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on Thursday.

He said the doses would arrive in two batches - one million vaccines will touch down in South Africa before the end of the month and the rest would follow in February.

“This is excellent, excellent news, but we need to keep the work going,” said SAHPRA's Professor Helen Rees.

South Africa has picked up almost 21,000 new infections in the last 24 hours - while 441 more people have died after contracting the coronavirus.

Under enormous pressure to get 67% of South Africa's population vaccinated this year, there was relief among health experts that the first one million jabs were on the way.

There's growing concern that some members of the public are reluctant to get the jab, but Rees said there was no doubt that vaccines were lifesavers.

“They’ve reduced things like polio, they’ve reduced things like measles and really common infectious diseases. In vaccines, broadly speaking, complications are usually extremely rare and they are things that saves lives and the misery of illness.”

The list of influential political figures who've made public statements against vaccines is growing - with scientists and experts strongly condemning the unfounded claims.

The South African Medical Association said it was thrilled at the news that South Africa would finally be rolling out an immunisation campaign with health care workers at the front of the queue.

AMBITIOUS PLAN

The Health Ministry is sticking to its guns and detailing an ambitious plan to vaccinate 40 million people against COVID-19 in the next 12 months.

Mkhize said we needed to vaccinate between 67% and 70% of the population to break the cycle of transmission.

READ: Mkhize adamant COVID vaccination rollout plan achievable

Briefing MPs, Mkhize said they wanted to get that done in 12 months but immunising 40 million people in a year was no small task.

The department is planning on rolling out over 300,000 vaccinations a day.

Finding the staff to pull that off is a challenge in and of itself, even in the best-case scenario that every vaccinator can inoculate 50 people a day, a small army of 6,300 vaccinators will be needed.

So where will these people come from?

"From clinical associates, community service doctors and nurses, contract nurses who are involved in other programmes on vaccinations, etc."

The department will also have to find teams of people in each province to ensure the vaccines are handled properly and that the cold chain integrity is maintained.

Additional reporting by Graig-Lee Smith.

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