WATCH | Covid-19: Second batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrives on SAA flight from Belgium

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  • The second batch of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrived in the country on Saturday morning.
  • Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said almost 64 000 healthcare workers in the public and private sector had been vaccinated in just over a week.
  • He said FDA approval of the single dose J&J vaccine for general use was expected this weekend, paving the way for similar approval by Sahpra in a few weeks.

The South African Airways (SAA) flight carrying the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from Belgium touched down at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday morning.

The flight left on Wednesday night to fetch at least 80 000 doses of the Covid-19 vaccine. Thousands of health workers have so far been inoculated with the first J&J vaccine batch that arrived a week ago.

This, as Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced that the country had reached its first milestone early, vaccinating 63 648 healthcare workers coming into contact with patients in the public and private sector, within just over a week.

He welcomed the news that the single dose J&J vaccine was even more effective than previously expected, with a 64% efficacy rate at preventing the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant.

"We further welcome the news that the expert panel at the FDA (US Food and Drug Administration) unanimously recommended the vaccine for approval last night," said Mkhize

He said: 

FDA approval of the single dose J&J vaccine for general use is expected this weekend, paving the wave for similar approval by Sahpra (South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) in a few weeks.

The transportation of the vaccine drew criticism from the SAA Pilots' Association (Saapa). The pilots said a commercial flight scheduled for the same day could have been utilised to save costs for the beleaguered airline. According to Saapa, the flight could cost taxpayers around R5 million, excluding payment of staff onboard and their accommodation in Brussels.

In a statement, the Department of Public Enterprises hit back at Saapa, and said cargo flights would be profitable in the future.

Plane carrying second batch of Johnson & Johnson v
The SAA plane carrying the second batch of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine from Belgium arrived at OR Tambo International Airport on Saturday morning.

"Claims by detractors, including officials of Saapa and a small clique of 'commentators' that the flight was an expensive exercise, are devoid of the truth and only seeks to sabotage the ongoing strategic role of SAA Cargo in the national effort to transport vaccines and other valuable cargo into the country."

Mkhize announced the arrival of the vaccines on Tuesday in Parliament during a debate on the country's rollout plan. He said negotiations on vaccine production were continuing with countries such as Russia, China and Cuba.

Meanwhile, the AstraZeneca vaccine that first arrived in the country, but was found to lack efficacy against the Covid-19 variant, has since been sold to the African Union, Mkhize told the MPs.

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