By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
The COVID-19 Sisonke vaccination roll out programme has been extended to 54 vaccine sites across the country, Acting Minister in the Presidency, Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, announced on Thursday.
Briefing the media on the outcomes of the Cabinet meeting, Ntshavheni said the programme has to date vaccinated more than 207 808 people.
There are three phases to South Africa’s vaccination roll out programme.
Phase 1 is being implemented over three months from February to April 2021, to target over 1.5 million (608 295 registered) healthcare workers countrywide.
"The Department of Health is on track to vaccinate all healthcare workers by the end of Phase 1," Ntshavheni said.
The Minister announced that Phase 2 will be implemented over six months, starting from May to October 2021.
"This phase will cover over 13 350 140 vulnerable groups, essential workers, and occupational health and safety stream, including workers in sectors that are critical for economic recovery such as mines, hospitality, the taxi industry, retail and spaza shops, fruit and vegetable vendors, media and other applicable beneficiaries," Ntshavheni explained.
The vaccination sites for Phases 2 and 3 will be increased to 2085, and will include private sector sites to improve the efficiency and speed of the vaccination roll out programme.
Phase 3 will be implemented over three months - from November 2021 to February 2022 - to cover the remainder of all people in South Africa, including those who were not vaccinated in Phase 2. The third phase will target 22 600 640 people.
Continual arrival of J&J vaccine welcomed
Cabinet welcomed the continual arrival of tranches of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine into the country.
Ntshavheni said Cabinet remains confident of the remarkable progress being made by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) in authorising the J&J jabs for mass vaccination.
"The recent approval by the SAHPRA of the Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine should give the country access to more lifesaving vaccines. Cabinet would like to reassure South Africans of the capacity of the Department of Health, in partnership with the private sector, to undertake a mass vaccine roll out when Phase 2 gets underway," Ntshavheni said.
Cabinet welcomed Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) on COVID-19 Vaccines, Deputy President David Mabuza’s, visit to the Biovac Manufacturing Facility in the Western Cape last Thursday.
The Deputy President visited the facility to assess its capabilities, infrastructure and investments to support vaccine manufacturing and development.
Ntshavheni noted that the partnership between Biovac and the United States-based immunotherapy company, ImmunityBio, to develop South Africa’s capability to manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, will result in ImmunityBio's second-generation COVID-19 vaccine being manufactured in the country.
Citizens urged to adhere to lockdown restrictions
Cabinet reiterated its call to all South Africans and everyone in the country to play their part and strictly adhere to the lockdown restrictions, particularly during the upcoming Pesach, Easter and Ramadan religious celebrations.
This in a bid to minimise a resurgence in COVID-19 infections and prevent a potential third wave.
Cabinet further reiterated the importance of observing the non-pharmaceutical health protocols to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by continuing to wear masks in public spaces, maintaining social distancing of at least 1.5 metres, always washing hands with soap and water or using an alcohol-based hand sanitiser and avoiding large gatherings.