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OUR TAKE: NO REASON TO DESPAIR OVER VACCINE ROLLOUT

There was great concern when the government said rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, due to be given to healthcare workers, had to be put on hold. It emerged that the vaccine is less effective against mild to moderate cases of the new Covid-19 variant, present in SA. We don’t know if it’s effective against severe illness, because severely ill people haven’t been studied – yet.

But the World Health Organisation said this week that the vaccine shouldn’t be written off – it could still prevent serious illness. 

It was also disappointing to hear that the AstraZeneca vaccine expires in April. But that’s not set in stone, and will probably change when more data is available, as Bhekisisa reports.

The good news is that the government plans to pivot to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to vaccinate healthcare workers, Business Day reports. It’s shown to be effective against the new variant. 

Government has already bought 20 million Pfizer doses which will arrive between April and June. Another 117 000 will arrive later this year via the Covax scheme.

The government had already secured 9 million doses of the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. Plans are afoot to get 20 million more doses, Daily Maverick reports. The vaccine must still be approved by the pharmaceutical regulator. While that happens, it can be approved as an emergency measure for research purposes. Health minister Zweli Mkhize said health care workers are NOT being used as guinea pigs: we already know the vaccine works. We just need as much data as possible. 

So while the AstraZeneca situation is a setback, it isn’t all doom and gloom. Our scientists are some of the world’s best infectious diseases specialists, and they know what they’re doing. They’ve made data from local trials available, so our policy decisions are based in fact, not speculation. 

Scientists are also in discussions with other vaccine producers as more vaccines come on the market.  And if you’re wondering how SA is going to afford its vaccine rollout, don’t panic. City Press reports that the government has at least R45 billion to spare because of higher-than-expected tax revenues this year. 

As more data emerges, we’ll know more about which vaccines work for the variant (and variants to come). But we can rest assured, SA WILL get its vaccines.

This article was originally published in The Wrap here.

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