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Quality assurance guarantee as first Covid-19 vaccines land in South Africa

South African health workers will soon receive their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.
South African health workers will soon receive their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and his deputy David Mabuza will on Monday afternoon receive South Africa’s first tranche of Covid-19 vaccines.

They will be accompanied by health minister Zweli Mkhize, acting minister in the presidency Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, high commissioner of India Jaideep Sarkar and CEO of Biovac Morena Makhoana, the presidency said.

Sunday Times reported on the weekend that South Africa had secured an additional 20m doses of vaccines from pharmaceutical giant Pfizer. This is in addition to 9m doses from Johnson & Johnson, 12m from Covax and 1.5m AstraZeneca through the Serum Institute of India (SII).

The country is set to receive its first one million doses of vaccine from SII at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport today.

Bio-pharmaceutical company Biovac will store and distribute the vaccine.

“Biovac will play an important role in the quality assurance, warehousing and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines,” the presidency said.

“The arrival of the first consignment at OR Tambo International Airport marks the start of the vaccine rollout which President Ramaphosa describes as the largest and most complex logistical vaccine undertaking in SA’s history.”

Mabuza, who chairs the interministerial committee on Covid-19 vaccines, will co-ordinate the vaccination programme.

Speaking to Sunday Times, Mkhize said government has developed an intricate process to ensure there are no lapses in the process between receiving and administering the vaccines.

He explained the quality assurance process: “Upon arrival it must be taken to quarantine because it is an unknown object until we have confirmed it is what we expect it to be. Samples must then be taken to a control laboratory where they will be tested. The process of quality assurance is vigorous. It is strict and the safety of our people is sacrosanct.,

“What that process will tell us is if what we get corresponds with the licences specifying its contents and volume and what it contains. Such a process can take about three or four days because it is very important we are certain it is the correct product and is not contaminated.”

Mkhize emphasised that despite the rush to begin vaccinating, “we would not compromise safety and for that we will have to give it time to clear. Every batch will go through exactly the same approach. That is the most important step.”

The process is also set to protect the government against breakages, contamination and leaks, and until test reports are completed, there will be no distribution to provinces.

“It is important to go through each package. If we say it is 100 vaccines per batch, we must make sure it is exactly 100. If there are broken or leaking bottles that must be recorded. It is part of the contract that we must do the checks so that if there are damages, we can ask for replacements.”

Mkhize said once the process is completed, liability will be in the hands of the government.

He vaccines will be sorted according to distribution destinations using the most suitable way to transport and store them.

Provinces have availed depots where vaccines will be stored before they are dispatched to identified hospitals and community health centres.

“We anticipate more vaccines arriving this month. We are tying up things. The aim is to be able to give people a second dose and complete phase one.”

Mkhize has written to all health MECs informing them of the number of vaccines each province will receive, and said there is no need for any province to consider buying vaccines.

Doctors, nurses, pharmacists and pathology laboratory staff are among the health workers who will receive the first doses.

Additional reporting by Rethabile Radebe



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