The next Covid-19 vaccine shipment of 300 000 Johnson & Johnson jabs is set to arrive in South Africa on Friday 26 March and a further 200 000 vials will be delivered in the next two weeks.
The health department has committed to vaccinate 40-million South Africans. But even with the new roll-out strategy of Johnson & Johnson jabs, this might take longer than anticipated.
Since starting phase 1 of the vaccination roll-out plan on 17 February, just over 207 000 vaccines have been administered through the Sisonke Open-label Covid-19 vaccine drive.
Dr Anban Pillay, deputy director general of the health department, said approximately 800 000 healthcare workers have registered to receive a vaccine.
Should the government continue the vaccine roll-out at its current pace, it would take an estimated four months to inoculate all the registered healthcare workers — if all promised vaccine shipments arrive successfully and on time. As of Wednesday, 24 March, the country has still to administer 60 000 J&J doses.
However, the health department maintains the roll-out plan is on track.
“Yes, they are on schedule,” said Pillay, referring to the overall plan, which includes all three phases. “[…] we started vaccination on the 17 February with the plan to complete vaccinations in 12 months.”
Phase 1 aims to vaccinate all healthcare workers, phase 2 includes essential workers, people in congregate settings, those older than 60 and people over 18 with comorbidities. Phase 3 would see everyone else over the age of 18 receive a vaccine.
Professor Burtram Fielding, a virologist at the University of the Western Cape, said although the roll-out plan was progressing slowly, there was promising news on the science front.
“The good news is that recent science points to the fact that we should also be looking at those who had Covid-19 and recovered. Some excellent scientific studies have shown that these people have antibodies for at least six to eight months. Some international studies have shown that the majority of these people are also protected from the new variants. Keeping in mind that some SA studies have speculated that between 30% to 60% of people in certain areas have antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.
“So, we should really look at our Covid-19 immunity numbers as a combination of vaccinations and natural infections,” says Fielding.