South Africa finally received good news regarding its vaccination rollout, with the first batch of 325,260 Pfizer vaccines arriving in the country overnight.
A similar amount of weekly vaccine doses is expected to arrive through May for a total of 1.3 million doses by the end of the month. Thereafter, the supply is expected to increase notably to more than 636,000 per week in June.
The arrival of the Pfizer vaccines follows the restarting of phase 1 of the country’s rollout, which focuses on the vaccination of healthcare workers as part of the Sisonke implementation study. The rollout resumed on Wednesday (28 April).
Since then, 26,000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated, with the health department targeting 500,000 inoculations by the end of the study.
South Africa has also secured other vaccines, most of which are expected to arrive in the second half of the year.
Speaking in parliament on Wednesday, Health minister Zweli Mkhize also said that South Africa was looking to secure additional vaccines from Russia and India. However, the exact specifics around these deals have not yet been published.
Plans are in place to inoculate 16.5 million people from May to October with the aid of private healthcare providers, which will buy shots from the national government. This forms part of the phase 2 of the rollout, targeting vulnerable individuals and essential workers.
Phase 3 of the rollout, which will open up the shots to the rest of the country, are expected to start in November.
According to the Bureau for Economic Research (BER), the first commercial batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Aspen’s plant in Gqeberha is now expected by mid-May.
One area which could potentially hamper the country’s vaccine rollout is the protracted international safety verification process around the Johnson & Johnson vaccines which are currently being stored in Gqeberha.
Mkhize said that these vaccines are expected to be released around the middle of May but indicated that they would only be released upon approval from both US and South African regulators
“This is a precautionary measure following the adverse findings during inspection of Emergent BioSolutions Bayview facility in the United States of America, one of the manufacturing partners of Johnson and Johnson, which prompted the authorities to extend their assessments of all Johnson and Johnson stock worldwide. These assessments are still underway,” he said.
“We are confident that the final outcome will be positive and that, provided there are no further disruptions, Johnson and Johnson will be in a position to release the stock from the Aspen plant in Gqeberha by the middle of May. The stock is currently finished and ready for dispatch.”