Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says the Department of Health expects the first phase of the country’s vaccination roll-out to take about three months to complete.
This follows the arrival of the first consignment of one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday from the Serum Institute of India (SII). The vaccines will be administered to the country’s 1.2 million healthcare workers.
Another 500,000 shots are also expected this month.
“The first phase should take us about three months, the second phase six months, and the last phase should take three or more months depending on what the situation and supply will be at that point,” Mkhize said.
He was speaking during a briefing to Parliament’s portfolio committee on health on the roll-out strategy for Covid-19 vaccines.
The minister said in the second phase of the vaccination programme, essential workers like police, teachers and those will comorbidities would be inoculated.
“However, if we find that we are able to secure adequate vaccines before the end of three months, we will start the second phase nevertheless and open up our logistical processes to move on,” he said.
Mkhize told MPs that government had approached a number of vaccines manufacturers to procure the shots, but they were waiting for final agreements to be signed.
“But nevertheless on our terms of agreement regionally we have got nine [vaccines] that is secured from Johnson & Johnson, and another 20 million that is secured from Pfizer and there is also another 12 million that we should expect from the Covax Facility,” Mkhize said.
The vaccines already procured will ensure that at least 26 million citizens will be able to get vaccinated, the minister said. He also said they would make announcements, in due time, on where they would procure other vaccines.
The minister warned that the vaccination process would have a few challenges in the beginning as experienced by developed nations.
“We must say that it’s not going to be a smooth process,” he said. “We expect that there will be mistakes, stop-start issues, there will be issues of new lessons on the challenges and obstacles. All of that will be taken into consideration as we move on.”
He said government also held engagements with several stakeholders like religious leaders and civil society to explain to them the role they want them to play in the vaccination roll-out.
“All the provinces have produced their plans and they are ready to start vaccinations. In the course of all of that, we have a number of health workers trained and we’ve also engaged a number of stakeholders,” Mkhize said.
On the storage of the jabs, Mkhize said the vaccines that arrived from the SII were being stored at bio-pharmaceutical company, Biovac, and government had identified centres in the country where other vaccines would be stored for preservation.