South Africa is yet to begin its phase one mass vaccination roll-out programme which prioritises healthcare workers, the elderly and people with comorbidities.
This was clarified on Friday by Deputy Health Minister Joseph Phaahla before the parliament portfolio committee on health.
Phaahla told the committee the current vaccination programme of healthcare workers, which is under way, forms an extended study of the human trials around the globe. This is standard practice for the development of all pharmaceuticals, as the last phase of clinical trials requires enormous numbers of participants. All other phases of the vaccine trials have shown it to be safe and effective.
“The current inoculation is part of the extended study in terms of the human trial. The doses we are using are the remainder of the ongoing trials across the globe,” said Phaahla.
Phaahla said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was yet to receive formal approval from regulatory authorities in many parts of the world, including South Africa. Given that the vaccine was so recently developed, this is not surprising and does not necessarily mean the vaccine is not safe or effective.
He said that documents had been submitted to the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority to have the J&J jabs formally registered.
He said this was not a problem because all previous stages of the vaccine’s medical trials have shown it to be safe and effective.
South Africa is targeting a minimum of 67% of the population for the vaccine in order to ensure herd immunity – about 40 million people – in phase one of the rollout. This is to ensure those who cannot be vaccinated due to medical conditions will be protected from the disease because others cannot transmit it.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said in a briefing on the vaccine roll-out plan on Sunday they intended to have the majority of people in the country vaccinated by the end of 2021.
The committee also heard that the AstraZeneca vaccine bought from the Serum Institute of India was yet to be shipped to the African Union.
The AstraZeneca vaccine has shown to be less effective against the 501.V2 variant discovered in South Africa – the so-called South African variant.
Phaahla said negotiations were at an advanced stage and South Africa would soon be shipping doses.