President Cyril Ramaphosa has outlined South Africa's COVID-19 vaccine rollout plan as the country has officially received its first shipment of one million Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines, also known as Covishield.
The first shipment of vaccines arrived on Monday afternoon at the OR Tambo International Airport. The vaccine, which is from the Serum Institute of India (SII), left the Chatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport in Mumbai on Sunday.
"Now that the vaccines have arrived they will be tested at the National Control Laboratory to confirm that their integrity has been maintained during transportation.
"After testing, they will be distributed across the country to thousands of our healthcare workers who every day put their own lives at risk to save others," President Ramaphosa said.
The President made these remarks on Monday evening during his address to the nation on developments in relation to the country's response to the Coronavirus pandemic.
The address followed meetings in recent days of the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC), the President's Coordinating Council (PCC) and Cabinet.
"In accordance with our phased rollout strategy, all healthcare workers in the public and private sectors will be prioritised for vaccination.
"Provincial health departments have submitted their distribution plans and we have identified about 200 facilities to which the vaccines can be distributed," the President said.
Once the vaccination of healthcare workers has been completed, the country will move to Phase 2 of the national vaccine strategy, which will include essential workers, people over 60 years, people with co-morbidities as well as those living in places such as nursing homes and hostels.
In Phase 3, government will extend the vaccination programme to the rest of the adult population.
Accessing the vaccine
The Department of Health has developed an Electronic Vaccine Data System to streamline the vaccine registration and rollout process.
"This will allow us to capture all relevant data associated with the administration of the vaccine.
"This system allows a person to make an appointment as soon as they qualify for a vaccination at the vaccine centre closest to them. The system will record vaccinations as they are administered," the President said.
South Africa is sourcing vaccines from a number of suppliers.
"In addition to the one million Covishield doses that we received today; we expect another 500 000 doses from the Serum Institute of India to arrive later in February.
"We have secured 12 million doses in total from the global COVAX facility, which has indicated that it will release approximately two million doses by March," the President said.
South Africa has secured nine million vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, commencing with delivery in the second quarter.
"Johnson & Johnson has contracted Aspen, one of our pharmaceutical companies, to manufacture these vaccines in South Africa.
"In addition, Pfizer has committed 20 million vaccine doses commencing with deliveries in the second quarter," the President said.
He said the country is in advanced negotiations with manufacturers to secure additional supplies.
"South Africa will also receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union, which has been negotiating with manufacturers to secure vaccines for the entire continent on a pooled basis.
"Through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union, we have to date secured one billion vaccines for the entire continent," the President said.
Seven hundred million of these will come from the global COVAX facility and 300 million have been facilitated by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.
"We will be getting other vaccines that will be donated by various private sector companies to add to the vaccines that our continent needs.
"MTN, which is one of our companies that operates across a number of countries on the African continent, has made a donation of $25 million to procure 7 million vaccines, which will be made available to countries on the African continent within a matter of weeks," the President said.
He thanked MTN for the generous donation and called upon private sector companies to follow the example of MTN.
"A considerable amount of work has been done with the private sector and I am pleased that there is strong commitment to support every aspect of the national vaccine rollout effort. This includes funding when needed, logistics, distribution and administration.
"This has manifested in tight collaboration between the public and private sectors through a range of work streams meeting daily to achieve a successful rollout," President Ramaphosa said.
The President has assured the nation that the vaccines that the country is procuring have gone through meticulous, multi-stage testing processes, including large trials involving thousands of people.
"In addition to determining their effectiveness, these trials are also designed to identify side effects and safety concerns. Independent regulators then review the data from these trials to ensure they are not harmful.
The vaccines that we are procuring have been shown to be safe in large clinical trials across multiple countries.
Achieving herd immunity
South Africa aims to secure enough doses to achieve 'herd immunity', also known as 'population immunity'.
"This is when enough of the population is immune to the virus to provide indirect protection to those who are not immune. This should bring the spread of the virus under control.
"Our scientists estimate that we will likely reach herd immunity once around 67 percent of our people are immune. This amounts to around 40 million people in South Africa," the President said.
Government intends to make the vaccine available to all adults living in South Africa, regardless of their citizenship or residence status.
"We will be putting in place measures to deal with the challenge of undocumented migrants so that, as with all other people, we can properly record and track their vaccination history," the President said.
Nobody will be forced to take the vaccine
President Ramaphosa said no one will be forced to take this vaccine.
"Nobody will be forbidden from travelling, from enrolling at school, or from taking part in any public activity if they have not been vaccinated.
"Nobody will be given this vaccine against their will, nor will the vaccine be administered in secret. Any rumours to this effect are both false and dangerous," the President said.