Ramaphosa to take charge of first COVID-19 vaccine shipment from India

The vaccine was developed by British-Swedish biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

President Cyril Ramaphosa. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News.

JOHANNESBURG - President Cyril Ramaphosa will be receiving the first batch of vaccines from Mumbai on Monday afternoon before it's transported to a cold-room for technical processing and quality assurance in Johannesburg.

Ramaphosa will be joined by Deputy President David Mabuza, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and the High Commissioner of India.

Healthcare workers will be first in line to receive the double jab.

The Presidency's acting spokesperson Tyrone Seale: "The arrival of the fist consignment at OR Tambo International Airport marks the start of the vaccine roll-out, which President Ramaphosa describes as the largest and most complex logistical vaccine undertaking in South Africa's history."

Three weeks after Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced the procurement of COVID-19 vaccines for South Africa, the first one million doses are on their way.

The vaccine was developed by British-Swedish biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, in collaboration with the University of Oxford.

Its emergency use was approved in December after trials showed that it was safe and up to 90% effective in preventing infection from the coronavirus.

South Africa has secured one million doses this month and 500,000 others are expected in February.

The production and distribution is being handled by the Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine producer by volume.

The AZD1222 vaccine is one of several in the market but how and when was it developed and what does it promise?

Like many scientists around the world, researchers at AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford got down to work early on in 2020 as the novel coronavirus ravaged parts of the world.

By April, after initial trials in Britain and India, developers had made headway and reported not detecting severe side effects. Weeks later, the trials were extended to South Africa, the US and Brazil.

But there were some hiccups along the way and in September, global trials were halted when a volunteer developed a form of inflammation.

After much work and peer-reviewed results of phase three trials, the vaccine was authorised for emergency use in the UK in December.

Millions of doses have already been administered there, while some have been shipped to several countries including Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.

AstraZeneca's AZD1222 is a viral vector vaccine.

That means it does not contain an infectious pathogen but instead uses a harmless virus to deliver a genetic code to cells, ultimately training the immune system to react to future infections.

This mammoth task of production and distribution is being undertaken by the Serum Institute of India - the biggest vaccine manufacturer in the world.

Meanwhile in South Africa, much like elsewhere in the world, frontline workers such as nurses, doctors and others in essential industries will be vaccinated first.

They will require two jabs, administered at least four weeks apart.

There is currently not enough data to show how long one will have immunity from the virus after the inoculations or if this specific vaccine is effective in fighting the current variant, believed to be fuelling a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

AstraZeneca's vaccine is also cheaper than those developed by the likes of Pfizer and Moderna and does not need to be stored at ultra-cold temperatures.

WATCH: SA's vaccine strategy: what you need to know

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