Disclaimer: Information courtesy of the National Department of Health 

Vaccines are an important part of stopping the spread of COVID-19 in the country. This is because they offer protection to an individual, by reducing their risk of infection or the severity of their symptoms, and also at a population level, referred to as *population-immunity. The vaccination programme is a priority in the fight to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Yes. The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) approves vaccines for use in the country. SAHPRA assess the safety, efficacy and quality of vaccines and have committed to the expeditious evaluation of these vaccines through various mechanisms, that will shorten the timeframe it usually takes to approve a product. 

The Government will source, distribute and oversee the rollout of the vaccine. As the sole purchaser of vaccines, the Government will distribute it to provincial governments and the private sector. 

The vaccines will be rolled out in a three-phase approach, that begins with the most vulnerable in our population.
Phase 1: The country’s estimated 1.2 million frontline healthcare workers.
Phase 2: Essential workers, persons in congregate settings, persons over 60-years and persons over 40-years.
Phase 3: The final phase will target 22,5 million members of the population. The target is to vaccinate 67% of the population by the end of 2021, in order to achieve population-immunity

A national register for COVID-19 vaccinations, the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), will be based on a pre-vaccination registration and appointment system. All those vaccinated will be placed on a national register and provided with a vaccination card. A national rollout committee will oversee the vaccine implementation in both the public and private sectors.

Individuals have to register on the system to get an appointment. Those who qualify will be sent a notification through SMS, with a unique code, informing them of the time and place where their injection will be administered. Individuals will have to present their unique code (received through SMS), their original ID document, valid drivers license, passport or affidavit at the vaccination site. As part of this monitoring system, there are plans to send reminders for follow-up appointments (to receive the 2nd dosage) and to include an integrated track-and-trace system for those who do not show up to receive their second shot. A dashboard system is also being developed to capture the reasons given for vaccine refusal.

The vaccine will be delivered using three platforms during phase one:
Work-based programmes: Best for hospital-based staff, especially at district level private and public hospitals.
Outreach-based programmes using mobile teams moving between facilities. Best for primary healthcare providers, community health workers, and private medical centres Vaccination centres, particularly in remote areas. Ideal for independent healthcare workers.
During phases two and three the same programmes will be used, with the addition of vaccinations at public primary healthcare facilities.

For insured individuals, funding will be derived from their medical schemes and administered for free at the point of service. Uninsured individuals will be funded by Government and the vaccination will be free at the point of service.

Presently it is too early to know if COVID-19 vaccines will provide long-term disease protection, as additional research needs to be conducted. However, the data available suggests that most individuals who recover from COVID-19 develop an immune response that provides some period of protection against reinfection. How strong this protection is and how long it lasts, is not yet clear.

Several factors will determine the impact of vaccines on the COVID-19 pandemic. These factors include the effectiveness of the vaccines; how quickly they are approved, manufactured, and delivered; and how many individuals are vaccinated. The vaccines are likely to prevent large outbreaks once two thirds of the population (approximately 40million people) are immune which will take many months to achieve.

*Population-immunity – Infectious diseases spread easily and entire communities can rapidly become infected. If a high percentage of the community is vaccinated, it is difficult for the disease to spread. This is known as ‘herd immunity’ and is especially crucial for those most vulnerable, who are unable to receive certain vaccines.
*COVAX is a global alliance bringing together governments, global health organisations, manufacturers, scientists, the private sector, civil society and philanthropy, to provide innovative and equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. This will ensure that individuals across the globe, regardless of financial or societal status, will have access to COVID-19 vaccines once available.