Covid-19: Unused vaccines not up for grabs, says Western Cape health department

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Leftover vaccines are not available for people, the Western Cape says.
Leftover vaccines are not available for people, the Western Cape says.
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  • Any leftover vaccines to mitigate Covid-19 are not up for grabs.    
  • This after a Cape Town content producer raised hopes when he said he received an unused dose.  
  • The Western Cape health department said there was confusion over eligibility when the criteria for health workers was expanded.  

The current vaccines for Covid-19 are still only available to healthcare workers because they are part of the Sisonke trial, according to the Western Cape Department of Health.  

A content producer with the twitter handle @TheCapeTownGuy, known as "Cape Town Guy", tweeted that he was vaccinated after hearing there were unused doses left.  

READ | SA-born biotech billionaire commits R3 billion to produce vaccines locally

"I got the vaccine," he tweeted. "The doses were going to expire and I was able to register for it. Arm is a bit sore but overall, I feel fine," he wrote in a now deleted series of tweets.

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The now deleted tweet of @TheCapeTownGuy receiving the vaccine.

His moment of serendipity had many people asking whether they too could get an unused dose as South Africa's vaccination programme is still in its trial phase, with some wondering whether there would be "vaccine hunter" initiatives like the ones in some countries.

Others questioned why he had managed to get vaccinated ahead of other people.

The department said any talk of unused vaccines being available to anybody outside the current system was fake news.  

"Unfortunately, there has been so much fake news circulated via the public and social media over the last four days," said head of department Dr Keith Cloete during Premier Alan Winde's weekly update on the pandemic on Thursday.

 "Let me emphatically state: because Sisonke was an access trial the vaccines used for Sisonke were prepared for its trials," added Cloete.   

He said there might have been some confusion when healthcare worker eligibility was expanded.

A call was put out to other health workers when it became clear there were still doses left ahead of the end of the Sisonke trial on Saturday. 

The trial was limited to frontline healthcare workers, and its intention was to test the systems for the broader programme.  

READ | J&J vaccines not expiring soon and Sisonke study not open to general public, says Prof Gray

This week, the criteria was expanded from frontline workers to include other people working in the healthcare field, such as homecare workers, medical researchers and other non-frontline healthcare workers.

Department spokesperson Mark van der Heever said in an earlier report this was on 9 May in an email from Sisonke. 

"Unfortunately, those two messages became conflated and what happened is, it came to the public: 'Here is excess vaccine, please go to the site'," he added.  

Returned

The current vaccines are still only available to healthcare workers, and unused doses have to be reconciled and returned to the Sisonke trial researchers.   

"There have been unfortunate episodes that [arose] out of this, and unfortunately some people used this opportunity to jump the queue. Which was unfortunate, it was never the intention," said Cloete.  

The rollout to the general population is expected to begin on 17 May, with the rest of the healthcare workers, people over 60 in homes for the aged, and graduating to other people in that age band with Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson doses bought by the government.

While that age group is being vaccinated, the uptake will be monitored and depending on how many people have been vaccinated, vaccinations for people over 50 could be opened, running parallel. 

The co-principal investigator of the Sisonke trial, Dr Glenda Gray, said claims that the vaccines were expiring were untrue, adding he might have lied to get the vaccine.

Cape Town Guy was approached for comment, but said he would not be making a statement.

Winde said jumping the queue was "not cool".

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