The first batch of the Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine arrived in South Africa shortly before midnight on Sunday, 2 May. The shipment contained about 325 000 doses and more are expected on a weekly basis as the country accelerates its vaccine rollout.

After arrival, the entire batch of Pfizer shots was transported to a central warehouse for testing and quality assurance before being shipped off to vaccination sites across the country.

1.3 MILLION SHOTS EXPECTED BY THE END OF MAY

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize said the department is expecting to receive the same number of doses – 325 260, to be precise – on a weekly basis. By the end of May the Pfizer vaccine supply should tally more than 1.3 million doses.

“Thereafter the vaccine supply will increase to an average of 636 480 doses weekly from 31 May which will see us accumulating close to 4.5 million doses by the end of June,” said Mkhize.

Last week, South Africa resumed its Johnson and Johnson (J&J) Sisonke early access trial vaccination of health workers – after it was halted when six patients in the US developed blood clots after getting the jab. The country is holding another cache of J&J vaccines at a facility in Gqeberha, Mkhize said the department received communication that indicated that those doses are expected to be released in the middle of May.

The vaccines are embargoed due to a protracted safety verification process with international regulatory agencies, said Mkhize.

“In the meantime, we will continue to vaccinate our health care workers with the remaining early access doses of Johnson and Johnson (through the Sisonke Protocol) and we will proceed to vaccinate with Pfizer,” said Mkhize.

The minister also called on all health care workers – including traditional healers – and all elderly citizens – 60 years and older – to register on the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) in order to ensure they have access to the vaccine.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT THE PFIZER VACCINE

The Pfizer BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is administered in two doses, three weeks apart via an injection into the muscle.  A protective effect starts to develop with 12 days of the first jab but for full protection two doses are necessary. The duration of protection is currently unknown.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mRNA vaccine is safe and 95% effective, even in people who suffer from conditions that make them more susceptible to the virus, including hypertension, diabetes, asthma and more. It has also been proven to be effective against a variety of variants. However, people with a history of allergic reactions to any ingredients of the vaccine should not take it. Children under the age of 16 are also not advised to take the jab because not enough testing has been done for that age group.

Vaccination does not necessarily prevent infection and transmission of COVID-19 but getting the jab may prevent serious illness. “There is currently no substantive data available related to impact of Pfizer BioNTech vaccine on transmission or viral shedding,” said WHO.

“In the meantime, we must maintain and strengthen public health measures that work: masking, physical distancing, handwashing, respiratory and cough hygiene, avoiding crowds, and ensuring good ventilation.”

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Presh JM Reporter

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