Less than a week after the country launched its vaccination programme against Covid-19, more than 10,000 health-care workers in SA have been vaccinated.
At least 3,000 of those who had been vaccinated by Saturday were from the private health-care sector.
On Sunday, the national health department said that through the Sisonke early access programme, one-third of the first 80,000 Johnson & Johnson vaccines would be allocated to the private sector over the next 14 days.
“All health-care workers irrespective of where they work need to be vaccinated. This is critical and is aligned with the national prioritisation framework for phase 1 of the national vaccine rollout programme,” said department spokesperson Popo Maja.
“The collaboration with the private sector culminated in the first round of private sector health-care worker vaccinations being delivered on February 20, 2021.”
Despite limited planning time and a change in implementation from the AstraZeneca vaccine to the J&J vaccine, the programme has already vaccinated more than 3,000 health-care workers from the private sector.
“This was only made possible through close co-operation between department of health officials, site staff, private sector leadership, and the Sisonke programme staff.
“The response from private health-care professionals has been heartening and exceeded expectations across several sites. The confidence by health-care workers in the vaccine and the protection it offers is evident in the queues and higher than planned demand from doctors and nurses across the country,” said Maja.
On Wednesday the country kick-started the inoculation programme at Khayelitsha District Hospital, with President Cyril Ramaphosa and health minister Zweli Mkhize taking the lead and being vaccinated.
So far just 80,000 doses of the vaccine have been shipped to SA, but up to 500,000 shots have been secured to inoculate health-care workers over the next four weeks, starting at 18 public sector hospitals across all nine provinces.
Last week Mkhize said the country would receive 7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine.
AstraZeneca vaccinations are on hold after a small local trial found the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant first identified late last year.
Late last week a laboratory study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggested that the 501Y.V2 variant may reduce protective antibodies elicited by the Pfizer vaccine by two-thirds. But scientists were quick to caution that because the study’s findings were from a lab it was difficult to judge what they might mean in the real world.
Prof Barry Schoub, chair of the ministerial advisory committee on vaccines, told Reuters the two-thirds reduction in antibodies mentioned in the study “means there is quite a significant remnant neutralising potency … we feel Pfizer is still a very good vaccine in our context”.
According to local data, the single-shot J&J vaccine offers about 57% protection against moderate-severe disease, 85% protection against severe disease and 100% protection against death, based on evidence from the clinical trials that included SA participants.
Maja said the surge in demand from health-care workers was not only being seen in SA, but had also been seen mirrored in many other countries including the UK and India.
“We appreciate the patience of health-care workers as we work tirelessly to roll out this large-scale programme in record time. There are a number of process-related issues the departments of health, private sector partners and the Sisonke programme team are working towards resolving in real time to alleviate the wait times.
“We are confident that our partnership across public and private sectors will help to overcome these short-term process challenges and result in us being able to protect many health-care workers in a shorter period of time.
“We are fully committed to protect the vulnerable health-care workers who have sacrificed so much over the past year in putting themselves on the front line. They have dealt with so much loss, pain and tragedy and we see their desire to be vaccinated as an expression of their hope, confidence and optimism. Health-care workers across the country are today breathing a sigh of relief and rebuilding much needed morale on the front line,” said Maja.