A COVID-19 vaccine may be available in South Africa by mid-2021, announced the Ministry of Health.

COVAX is “a global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide equitable access to safe and effective vaccines, once they are licensed and approved,” according to the World Health Organisation (WHO), who back the initiative.

South Africa remains a member state of the COVAX facility as a means to gain access to vaccines rapidly in order to vaccinate at least 10% of the country’s population. Over 187 countries are committed to this initiative, and there are currently 11 vaccines that have advanced to phase 3 clinical trials. Of these, nine have entered into a partnership with COVAX.

The Solidarity Fund has agreed to make the initial contribution of R320-million to COVAX as a down payment to secure enough doses to vaccinate 10% of our population. The full cost of purchasing the doses required is estimated at ZAR 2 156 934 840.

In a statement on Friday [December 4], the Ministry of Health explained: “There will be several factors that may alter this cost, most significantly the vaccine that we will ultimately purchase through this agreement. It is also important to understand that, aside from the costs of purchasing the vaccine, we also need to ensure we have the funds and resources secured for the actual distribution, storage and administration of the vaccine countrywide.

“Our understanding from the production estimates we have been provided with at this stage is that we should expect to receive the first batch of stock in quarter two of 2021.”

The Ministry explained that in order for a vaccine to be distributed in the country, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has to assess a number of factors, including the safety, efficacy and quality of the vaccine.

“None of the vaccine manufacturers have submitted their application dossiers to SAHPRA as yet. Nevertheless SAHPRA has committed to ensuring the expeditious evaluation of these vaccines once the dossiers have been received, through various mechanisms that will shorten the timeframe it usually takes to approve a product.

“To support South Africa’s efforts to secure early access to, and delivery of, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments as soon as they become available, the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 Vaccines has been developing a strategy for the implementation of a COVID-19 vaccination rollout,” the Ministry added.

“This strategy will include a review of available resources, services delivery platforms, and the required investment to ensure a successful administration to the selected priority groups. Collaboration between the private and public health sectors will be key to the successful implementation of this life-saving intervention.”

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