Covax: Who will be the first in SA to get the vaccine

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  • The country's top vaccines adviser has revealed who will be the first in line to get the Covax vaccine.
  • The Covax programme will enable 10% of South Africans to be vaccinated.
  • An immunologist says an effective vaccine should induce antibodies to neutralise and eliminate the virus that causes Covid-19.

Healthcare practitioners, the elderly and essential workers will be among the first to get the Covax jab, South Africa's top vaccines adviser has told News24.

LIVE | All the latest coronavirus and lockdown updates

Although the country's Covax vaccine rollout plan is still work in progress, Professor Barry Schoub, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on vaccines, has outlined the categories of people who will be the first to be inoculated.

"There are roughly four groups of people who should be vaccinated first," he told News24.

  • The first group comprises frontline healthcare workers and non-professional health workers.
  • The second group comprises people who are aged 75 years and older, and the elderly who live in old age care homes as well as the staff.
  • This would be followed by essential workers, defined as people carrying out jobs deemed vital to keep the country afloat.
  • Next in line would be prisoners and people who are institutionalised.

"In addition to Covax, there are other bilateral negotiations with vaccine manufacturers," Schoub said, adding that he could not discuss the details thereof.

After administrative hitches, South Africa secured its entry into the Covax facility after the Department of Health and the Solidarity Fund paid about R283 million.

READ | South Africa finally makes highly anticipated Covax down payment to secure vaccines

Covax is an international initiative to obtain vaccines. The programme is managed by the Global Alliance for Vaccines and Immunisations (GAVI) and the World Health Organisation.

The Covax vaccine is expected to be delivered to South Africa by the first half of 2021 and will cover roughly six million people.

The country will have to prioritise who gets the shot first because initially, it will likely not be able to get large quantities, Ministerial Advisory Committee chairperson Professor Salim Abdool Karim said.

"Highest on our list would be those who have a very high risk of infection and those would be primarily healthcare workers. Next on the list would be those who suffer the harshest consequences of the disease - the elderly and those with comorbidities. Then we have to look at ensuring we can provide the vaccine to our essential workers", he said in a video clip which Health Minister Zweli Mkhize shared on Twitter.

Do you still need to be vaccinated if you've had Covid-19?

Everyone should get the vaccine, Abdool Karim said, noting that it would serve as a valuable booster dose for those who already contracted the coronavirus.

He said it was expected that those who already had Covid-19 developed some antibodies, giving them some level of protection. 

"The level of protection may not be adequate to protect against reinfection, so it is advisable that everybody, whether you have had the coronavirus infection in the past or not, that you should have the vaccine."

The finer details of the Covax vaccine rollout plan for the country are still being worked out and will be announced in due course, the health department told News24.

ALSO READ | Covid-19 reinfection cases in SA: NICD can't confirm repeat infections, wants labs to keep specimens

Professor Burtram Fielding, a molecular biologist who has mainly worked on coronaviruses since 2003, believes that not everyone should get the vaccine.

"Those above age 55, with comorbidities; medical personnel; and those taking care of the aged or other individuals with a high risk of developing severe Covid-19 should be given first access to the vaccine," he told News24.

Fielding added that when people at risk of developing severe Covid-19 don't take the vaccine, then people living in the same household as them should consider taking the vaccine.

The immune response a Covid-19 vaccine should provoke

A Covid-19 vaccine should induce long-lasting antibodies that have the ability to neutralise the virus and eliminate the vehicles in our bodies that manufacture new viruses, said immunologist, Professor Thomas Scriba.

"Covid-19 vaccines should impair the ability of the virus to infect new cells and thus, it cannot replicate efficiently. Plus, it should induce long-lasting T-cell responses that can recognise and kill cells that are infected with the virus," he told News24. 

ALSO READ | Only 3% of SA will get vaccine under Covax deal

On Wednesday, the health department warned the public of tighter restrictions after deaths increased by more than 400 and infections climbed by more than 14 000.

"This indicates that the virus continues to spread exponentially - indeed the rate of spread is much faster than the first wave and we will surpass the peak of the first wave in the coming days."

The country is gripped by a second wave of Covid-19 infections, driven by a new variant of the deadly pathogen.

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