Clear guidance needed on large-scale vaccine arrivals, says Western Cape health MEC

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The MEC of Health in the Western Cape Nomafrench Mbombo said more healthcare workers died during the second wave of Covid-19 in December. Photo: Lulekwa Mbadamane.
The MEC of Health in the Western Cape Nomafrench Mbombo said more healthcare workers died during the second wave of Covid-19 in December. Photo: Lulekwa Mbadamane.
  • Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo has called for clear guidance on when large quantities of Covid-19 vaccines will arrive in South Africa.
  • She said workers were telling her they could not keep staying at home any longer due to reductions in staff and that they were hungry.
  • The vaccines' arrival will also help restore normal health service delivery after many procedures and services were disrupted by the pandemic.

"When are we getting our vaccines?"

This is a plea Western Cape Health MEC Nomafrench Mbombo said she heard regularly from those who were desperate to return to proper work to support themselves and their families.

"Women in the poorest communities say they cannot keep staying home, they need to work," added Mbombo at the province's weekly briefing on its response to the Covid-19 pandemic.  

She said they were hungry, and were faced with the reality of companies only hiring two out of the usual five people, and they could not survive like that anymore.

Mbombo added the uncertainty around the mass rollout of the vaccinations was also putting the overall health system in a precarious position as it tried to bring back many of the non-Covid healthcare services that were disrupted by the pandemic.  

She said the workers she had spoken to did not just want to hear that vaccines have been secured, but negotiations were continuing, they needed actual arrival dates.  

"I just hope that by the end of this month, which is next week, we do have some clear guidance."

The Western Cape has tried to secure additional vaccines from Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) - the two vaccines the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) have approved for use - but were told those companies will only do business with the national Department of Health, not the provinces.   

The head of the Western Cape Department of Health, Dr Keith Cloete, said only 36 098 of the healthcare workers selected for the Sisonke J&J trial had been vaccinated in the province by 24 March. A total of 132 000 had been targeted for the first phase.

Cloete added it was anticipated 50% of healthcare workers would be covered with the limited doses being received via the Sisonke programme and it was hoped the remaining 50% would be covered by the expected delivery of enough Pfizer doses.

He said the trial had not revealed major adverse effects, with most of the side-effects being swelling at the injection site or a slight short-term fever. 

The trial has, however, been useful in terms of planning the intricacies of a mass rollout.  

Cloete added South Africa was expecting the arrival of the Pfizer vaccines in April, and then in the coming months, the accelerated deliveries of vaccines from Pfizer and J&J. Both were granted approval by the SAHPRA.

Of the possible vaccine options, he explained that:

Covishield got approval but the rollout was put on hold.   

Moderna has not made a submission to the SAHPRA yet and it is not imminent before the third quarter. 

Sputnik, Sinopharm and Sinovac have submitted applications to the SAHPRA but the approvals are not imminent.   

Regarding Novavax and Bharat Biotech, no application for approval has been submitted yet.   

Meanwhile, the Western Cape government has received 28 unsolicited bids to supply vaccines, and the evaluation of these should be completed by the first week of April.  

The province hopes its own purchases of vaccines can start in August.   

The health department is hoping that if the J&J doses are delivered from the second and third quarter of 2021, and the Pfizer doses are secured from the second quarter onwards, the supply deficit required by winter could drop to 3.5 million.

The types of Covid-19 vaccines. (Department of Health)
News24 Department of Health
Vaccines (Department of Health)
News24 Department of Health
Estimated vaccine programme (Department of Health)
News24 Department of Health

This could save up to 40 000 lives, lead to 200 000 fewer hospitalisations, and more than R8 billion in savings in healthcare costs.  

The national target is to vaccinate between 250 000 and 300 000 people per day, with the Western Cape doing between 30 000 to 36 000 of those.  

Health departments are currently working on securing small, medium and large sites for this.  

The small sites will be at pharmacies, community clinics and general practitioners' rooms; the medium sites would be at hospitals, medical centres and select retail locations; and, the mass sites would be at gyms and retail spaces, conference centres and stadiums.

Meanwhile, the possibility of a third wave is still on everyone's mind, even though the Western Cape marked a day with no Civid-19 deaths on Wednesday. 

The reproduction number is still below 1, there were no traces of Covid-19 found at the City of Cape Town's waste water treatment plants in the past week, and deaths, test positivity and oxygen use had declined.

However, Premier Alan Winde urged people not to turn Easter into a super-spreader weekend. 

"Every one of us has to make sure that we are not being part of a super-spreader event this weekend, or any time for that matter," he said. 

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