Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize on Wednesday said government would be running an implementation study to monitor healthcare workers who will be receiving single-dose inoculations of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine.
“Once people have been given the vaccine, we are going to watch if they might be any breakthrough infections, particularly as people are working in a high-risk infection area. And for that reason, we are going to continue with the observations among all of those who will be vaccinated,” Mkhize said.
The minister was speaking at Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town where he and President Cyril Ramaphosa were vaccinated for Covid-19 along with several health workers.
The event, which Ramaphosa said marked a historic milestone in the country’s fight against the Covid-19 pandemic, followed the arrival of the first batch of 80,000 doses of the J&J vaccine on Tuesday night.
The vaccine offers 57% protection against the 501Y.V2 variant detected in South Africa last year.
Mkhize said the J&J vaccine had been distributed throughout the country. And a further 500,000 doses of the shot is expected to arrive over the next four weeks.
“This 80,000 is spread to over 32 [vaccination] sites throughout the country, and those sites are from the South African Medical Research Council combined with the Department of Health who are managing the programme,” he said.
At the same time, Mkhize said Pfizer made a commitment to government to deliver about seven million doses of their vaccine by June.
“I must indicate this is all because we have actually asked for consideration as South Africa is the epicentre [of Covid-19] in the continent and the fact that we have a raging second wave that we are going through,” he said.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered in two separate doses and has been found to be 95% effective against Covid-19 beginning 28 days after the first dose.
Mkhize said based on experience from the UK’s vaccination programme, government can inoculate healthcare workers between three and four weeks after they have received the first shot of the Pfizer vaccine.
“We have actually learned from the UK that we can actually wait for three months, which means we can actually vaccinate a large number of people within the period so that everyone gets initial protection, and thereafter we will come with the second doses.”
The minister said once they have finalised all the agreements with vaccine manufactures globally, they would make further announcements.
“All I can tell you as we sit now is that we’ve actually got enough doses in the pipeline to cover all South Africans based on the 40 million people we want to vaccinate,” he said.