The plane carrying SA’s first batch of Covid-19 vaccines will arrive in the country on February 1.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday night that 1 million doses of the vaccine — from the Serum Institute of India (SII) — will leave India on January 31, via Dubai, and arrive the following day at a time that has not yet been confirmed.
The vaccine that will arrive on Monday is the Aztra Zeneca vaccine — a product called “COVISHIELD”.
Mkhize said on Wednesday night that various processes will be done, which would take 10-14 days, after which “we will be ready to distribute to all provinces”.
The minister said that the vaccines will have to go through a legally mandated quarantine period once they arrive in the country, and through quality assurance and reconciliation processes — the latter of which involves checking how many arrived, if any were broken, or how many had to be sent back.
“These are all necessary for the safe distribution of the vaccine. These processes will take a minimum of 10 days and maximum of 14 days,” said Mkhize.
He said that this was the first step in achieving herd, or population, immunity, which he said would ideally be achieved “by the time we get towards the end of the year”.
Mkhize said the Treasury had put its full weight behind securing the vaccine, saying it had “ensured no undue delays”, had granted all procurement deviations that the health ministry had requested and had “committed to financing additional orders”. He added that, from a regulatory standpoint, “we are cleared to move ahead with the rollout of the vaccine and the mass inoculation campaign”.
He said that getting the first batch of vaccines in less than a year since the first case “is a massive achievement of unprecedented proportions”.
Mkhize praised the country’s “fearless compatriots” — those people who had stepped up and taken part in vaccine trials across SA.
“Today I want to pay tribute to those fearless compatriots who volunteered to participate in the trials, doing so without knowing whether they were getting the vaccine or placebo. Let us not forget these heroes who defied all anxieties and chose to be of service for the greater cause.
“It’s only through human trials that you can truly establish the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. They were those humans. We thank them for their noble contribution that has brought us to where we are today,” he said.