The first phase of the country’s vaccination programme under the Sisonke Study will come to an end on 17 May 2021, says Acting Minister in the Presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni.
South Africa has been vaccinating healthcare workers in the public and private sector using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine since mid-February. So far, 207,808 vaccines have been administrated at 72 sites across the country.
Ntshavheni said South Africa was also on track to vaccinate more than 1.5 million registered health workers against the coronavirus by the end of the first phase.
“To date, we are confident from the work and the briefings of the Department of Health and the Interministerial Committee on Covid-19 vaccines that we are on course to meet the target of over 1.5 million vaccinations by the end of phase one, which will end on 17 May,” she said.
Ntshavheni said phase two – which includes vulnerable groups and essential workers – would be implemented over a period of six months from May to October 2021. The number of vaccination sites for phases two and three will be expanded to 2,085 and include private sector sites to improve the speed of the vaccination roll-out programme.
“This phase will cover 13,350,140 vulnerable groups, essential workers and the occupational health and safety stream. For example, workers in sectors that are critical for economic recovery such as mines, hospitality, taxi industry, retail and spaza shops, fruit and vegetable vendors, media and other applicable beneficiaries,” Ntshavheni said.
“Phase 3 will be implemented over three months (November 2021 – February 2022) to cover all people in South Africa, targeting 22,600,640 people.”
Ntshavheni said the Cabinet was confident of the progress being made by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to authorise the J&J vaccine for mass vaccination. She said the recent approval by SAHPRA of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine should give the country access to more lifesaving shots.
“As it stands now, J&J is still being implemented as an expanded trial on health workers with the relevant approvals for an expanded trial. And we communicated that J&J is finalising its authorisation by SAHPRA for the mass vaccination and we are confident that before phase two is commenced with, that approval would have been granted,” she said.
The lead investigator of the J&J trials, Professor Glenda Gray, told Parliament on Wednesday the next 200,000 doses of the J&J vaccine were expected to arrive in the country in the next two weeks. On Saturday, 60,000 more doses of the J&J vaccine arrived in South Africa.
Could SA soon move to level 2 lockdown?
Asked about concerns over the resurgence of Covid-19 infections during the Easter period, Ntshavheni said the National Coronavirus Command Council (NCCC) would meet on Thursday to consider how to mitigate the effects of a possible third wave.
On Wednesday, News24 reported the NCCC was advised by the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) to move the country to Alert Level 2 lockdown ahead of the Easter break. The MAC advised the government to restrict gatherings to 50 people, impose a 10pm national curfew and limit the sale of alcohol to Monday to Thursday from 10am to 6pm.
“It is not only the Easter holidays, we’ve got the Jewish passover, also known as Pesach. There is also Ramadan which will follow immediately,” Ntshavheni said.
“The NCCC is considering measures that should be implemented during that period and we cannot discuss the advisories, which are provided either by the MAC or the national joint operations committee to the NCCC.
“I can’t pre-empt those advices and the decision of the NCCC. When the time is right, we all know as South Africans that the president will convene a ‘family meeting’ and communicate those decisions,” she said.