by MTHULISI SIBANDA
JOHANNESBURG, (CAJ News) – THE approval of the CoronaVac vaccine is hailed as a turning point in tackling the most devastating outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the continent.
However, judging by the wobbles that have dogged South Africa’s vaccination rollout programme, caution must be advised against high expectations.
The vaccine manufactured in China, coming amid government pressure to consider alternatives from the East, is momentous in that it is the first to cater for youth, who make up the majority of the country’s 60-million population.
Better known as Sinovac because of the name of its manufacturer, it is recommended for people aged 18-59, a majority who have not qualified for ongoing vaccination drives unless they are frontline health professionals, teachers and lately, law enforcers.
The Sinovac, whose first consignment of 2,5 million vials is set to arrive in South Africa by the end of July, is said to prevent symptomatic disease by 51 percent and prevent severe COVID-19 and hospitalisation by 100 percent.
Siobhan Redford, the economist, noted the approval of the vaccine by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) coincided with a “rough weekend” for South Africans as the country’s infection rate hit a record 26 896 new infections in a 24-hour window, as reported last Saturday.
Infections have reduced in recent days but are still high, with 15 501 cases at the time of publication.
“In some good news, it would seem that another vaccination – Sinovac – has been approved for distribution in SA,” Redford said.
She however noted SAHPRA had attached a condition that the final clinical trial results and safety data need to be released, but remained hopeful nonetheless.
“Given a slow vaccination roll-out in SA as well as a relatively thin stream of supply, a chance to see more people covered faster can only be a positive outcome for the country,” Redford said.
South Africa’s vaccination response has been snail-paced, attributed to the government of President Cyril Ramaphosa dropping the ball and in some instances, as a result of factors beyond its control.
The campaign got off to the worst possible start in February.
No sooner had the 1 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India arrived at OR Tambo airport than the government received the surprise revelation that the shots were expiring well ahead of what authorities had planned for.
It was later announced that the vaccine did not work well in protecting clinical trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the 501.V2 variant. The vaccination programme was put on a hold.
The first batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was received in March but in April, Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize (later to be sent on leave for alleged impropriety in a COVID-19 contact), announced the suspension of the vaccine following health concerns raised by the Food and Drug Administration.
Aspen Pharmacare, J&J’s local producer, had to destroy 2 million doses of the vaccine after contamination at a plant in the United States was discovered.
South Africa’s last batch was the Pfizer vaccine, shipped at the end of June.
The local government and ally China, where Sinovac is manufactured, are upbeat despite the issues that dogged the previous rollout of vaccines.
“The embassy of China in South Africa welcomes this important development in China-South Africa cooperation on COVID-19 vaccines,” the Embassy stated from Pretoria.
The period between now and the delivery of vaccines gives the manufacturer some time to assess and submit the final results of ongoing clinical studies.
It is anticipated this could avoid similar issues that halted previous vaccines.
“The regulator (SAHPRA) also took account of the World Health Organization (WHO) Emergency Use Listing (EUL) report on this vaccine,” Acting Health Minister, Mamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane, said.
Some 3 631 102 doses had been administered in South Africa by Tuesday evening.
The country is racing against time to vaccinate 67 percent of the population by the end of 2021, which is the national target needed to achieve herd immunity.
– CAJ News