Western Cape Premier Alan Winde has urged people not to become complacent over Covid-19 amid excitement over the first phase of the vaccine that is expected to help build immunity against it, as cases of Covid-19 decrease.
“This virus is not sorted by a long shot,” Winde said on Thursday during the weekly digital briefing on the virus in the province.
Since the Western Cape recorded the first death linked to the virus, over 10,000 people have died after contracting it in the two waves that have hit so far.
Current indications are that cases, deaths, hospitalisations and oxygen use are all down.
Wastewater treatment plant monitoring also indicates that the prevalence is subsiding, based on samples of traces of the virus at the plants.
There are still worrying amounts of trace in Cape Town’s Wesfleur Industrial area, but it is being monitored.
Cloete said the deaths of 114 health workers have hit them very hard, with 48 dying in December.
A consignment of Covishield, the vaccine developed by Oxford University and the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and produced by the Serum Institute of India, arrived in South Africa on Monday.
Head of the Department of Health in the province, Dr Keith Cloete, said the Western Cape had received one confirmation that doses were available for 35,000 public sector health workers and another confirmation for around 58,584 private sector health workers.
This will fall short of the around 133,000 people who work in the sector, so the confirmation of additional doses is being keenly awaited.
The one million doses that arrived on Monday have to be shared between all provinces.
A total of 1.5 million doses of Covishield are expected, and they require a first vaccination, and a follow-up vaccination.
In the meantime, the department is waiting for a third confirmation for vaccines for workers in the health sector of the City of Cape Town, and other workers such as traditional healers, undertakers and outsourced cleaning staff.
The final details of how and whether individuals will pay for it are still being finalised to determine whether an amount will be deducted from people who have medical aid.
However, Cloete said nobody would have to pay at the point of vaccination.
Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said about 1 995 registered healthcare workers who have worked on immunisation programmes before started their training on 2 February via podcast for the Covishield vaccinations. This includes herself.
Meanwhile, the preparations at the Cape Medical Depot which will receive and distribute the vaccines are underway, and vaccination cards are being printed.
Law Enforcement and the SA Police Service are being briefed on the guarding of the vaccine stocks, which will eventually be distributed in unmarked vans fitted with trackers and temperature monitoring devices.
The consignment will include temperature control information via electronic tags which will relay information to central computers to make sure the vials were not spoiled in transit.
The 10ml vials contain 10 doses each, so none of the precious cargo can be wasted as it is moved from the central storage point in Gauteng, then to provinces and to regions.
Cloete said so far, Covishield is the only vaccine approved by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority for use in South Africa.
Cloete was at pains to state that although the vaccine was developed quickly, it is regarded as safe.
He said Chinese scientists made the genome to use for vaccine development widely available in January 2020, so multiple organisations could start work on it.
The three testing phases usually run one after the other, but for the Covid-19 vaccine they ran concurrently, with safety checks, to make the vaccine available sooner.
Researchers also built on studies of the other coronaviruses that caused Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS). He believes the vaccine can be tweaked to adapt to the variants emerging.
Cloete said the vaccine promises to build up population immunity to reduce serious illness and death, and for a return to normal life.
He said the Western Cape’s cabinet also agreed to develop a contingency plan for its own vaccine acquisition, if needed, and with the approval of the national Department of Health, within regulatory requirements.
On Wednesday, the province’s ad-hoc committee on Covid-19 heard that the administrative cost of the vaccine would be around R231 per person.
Finance MEC David Maynier said they were still waiting for clarity from the national Treasury on how the vaccine rollout would be paid for, based on the estimation that it could cost the province up to R1.8 billion.
It’s hoped that would be cleared up by the time Finance Minister Tito Mboweni presents the Budget in March.
Winde and Cloete said they would happily take the vaccine, but not at the expense of a health worker who needed it most.
“I will also not be taking the vaccine unless frontline healthcare workers have had the vaccine,” said Cloete.