SA set to kickstart COVID-19 vaccinations after J&J jabs arrive

Eighty thousand of the single-dose vaccines arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday.

FILE: The first shipment of Johnson & Johnson's coronavirus vaccine arrives at OR Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg on 16 February 2021. Picture: GCIS

JOHANNESBURG - Now that the first batch of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines has arrived in South Africa, work will begin in earnest to inoculate healthcare workers in the public and private sector.

The first 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine will be dispatched to 17 sites across the country as part of an implementation study starting on Wednesday. The single-dose vaccines arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Tuesday.

Because the vaccine has been studied in South Africa, The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority approved an extension of the study that will allow healthcare workers to be vaccinated before the vaccine is officially licenced. As those first doses are part of the study, the South African tax payer won’t be footing the bill. However, the nine million doses of that vaccine secured by government will be paid for by the fiscus.

Medical scientists are rolling out the mass vaccinations as part of an implementation study between the Department of Health and the South African Medical Research Council.

To kickstart South Africa's vaccination drive, scientists established the Sisonke Open-label COVID-19 Vaccine Programme.

This will see 300,000 Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines arrive in the country over the next month.

Two hundred thousand more vials will arrive at a later stage, once the initial batches have been administered.

Johnson & Johnson ensemble trial co-lead, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, said that healthcare workers would initially be inoculated at 17 sites across the country.

"We will be expanding that as time goes by, so progressive realisation as we develop our systems and increase our robustness. We're starting in the big centres and when good numbers of those people are vaccinated we'll be moving out in a progressive way."

Bekker said that the vaccine offers protection against COVID-19, but to fast-track the rollout they had to do it via the Sisonke platform.

"Although it's getting the name of research, it really isn't, it's evaluation we will be following up how people do on the vaccine in a very broad way, the way we would we do for our national programme anyway and we'll be following them up to make sure that we get the expected outcome."

Sites where the first inoculations will take place include the Chris Hani Baragwanath, Tygerberg and Prince Mshiyeni Memorial hospitals.

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