As J&J vaccine rollout gains pace, researchers stress importance of SA testing

South Africa has taken a big step in the fight against COVID-19 with a vaccination plan conceived weeks ago delivering the first inoculations at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in the Western Cape.

A South African healthcare worker receiving the COVID-19 vaccine. Picture: Abigail Javier/Eyewitness News

CAPE TOWN - South Africa has taken a big step in the fight against COVID-19 with a vaccination plan conceived weeks ago delivering the first inoculations at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in the Western Cape.

The rollout will gain momentum on day two on Thursday after the initial batch of 80,000 Johnson & Johnson doses were delivered to all provinces.

When government’s AstraZeneca vaccination programme did not go according to plan, medical researchers involved in the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial stepped in and offered an alternative.

GALLERY: Day 1 of South Africa's COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Researchers who’ve been involved with the Johnson & Johnson ensemble vaccine efficacy study since last year, were on hand when President Cyril Ramaphosa and health workers received their jabs on Wednesday.

One of the study’s co-leads, Professor Glenda Gray, said that what was important was that the vaccine was put through its paces in a South African context and had proven to be effective against the coronavirus.

"When we got our results at the end of January, we could see that our vaccine worked with the new variant and we also knew with certainty that this vaccine could work in South Africa because most of the hospitalisations and deaths came from South Africa, so when I could tell my minister this vaccine works to prevent death and hospitalisations, it was based on South African data."

Another of the study’s principles, Professor Linda-Gail Bekker, said that decisive leadership and sound scientific research led them to this moment.

"When we pulled this programme, Sisonke, together, we believed it is really about doing this together."

The implementation study allows researchers to continue monitoring the vaccine’s potency against the coronavirus.

The rollout is being facilitated through the Sisonke Open-label COVID-19 vaccine programme.

WATCH: National vaccine rollout finally gets under way