Friday, 23 April 2021 10:53

Staff Reporter.

South Africa has for the first time contracted private companies to help with importation and distribution of Covid-19 vaccines as it seeks to step up vaccination nationwide.

The government awarded tenders to state-backed Biologicals Vaccines Institute of Southern Africa and Imperial Logistics to import an unspecified quantity of doses, the Department of Health said in a document on its website. DSV Healthcare was contracted to store and distribute the doses countrywide.

On 26 April, Biovac will handle delivery of South Africa’s first batch of 1 million Johnson & Johnson shots being produced locally by Aspen Pharmacare Holdings, chief executive officer Morena Makhoana said.

In addition, the organisation will also manage imports from Pfizer, Makhoana said. The quantities that Biovac and Imperial will import will be announced by the Department of Health, he said.

The government ordered 30 million of the two-dose vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, which in addition to the J&J shots should be sufficient to inoculate more than two thirds of the nation’s 60 million population to achieve herd immunity.

The government, which has been slow to rollout its vaccination program, has so far given 292,623 doses to health workers.

Dispensing shots to people over 60 years and other vulnerable groups is expected to start on May 17 after delivery of the J&J vaccines on Monday, the government said.

Meanwhile the world is focused on critically important new vaccines to protect people against the COVID-19 pandemic, the Department of Health has underscored the need to ensure that routine vaccinations are not missed.

The department made the remarks as South Africa joins the global community in commemorating World Immunisation Week to promote the importance of vaccination, by bringing people together and improving the health and wellbeing of everyone. 

World Immunisation Week is commemorated every year in the last week of April to promote the use of vaccines to protect people of all ages against disease.

World Immunisation Week 2021 will be commemorated under the theme, 'Vaccines bring us closer', which calls for greater engagement around immunisation to promote the importance of vaccination in bringing people together and improving their health and wellbeing. 

In a statement on Friday, the department noted that many children were not vaccinated, since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. This leaves them at risk of serious vaccine preventable diseases including measles, polio, whooping cough, tetanus, diphtheria, hepatitis B, TB, haemophilus influenza, diarrhoea, and pneumococcal infections, which cost humanity hundreds of millions of lives.  

"In South Africa, about 298 935 children missed their routine immunisation since the beginning of COVID-19 lockdown, which suggests that they might be vulnerable to childhood diseases," the department said.

The department, in collaboration with various stakeholders, has embarked on a countrywide immunisation catch-up drive to ensure that children are up-to-date with their immunisation schedule.

This is especially for those who missed routine vaccines, and other child health services as a result of interruptions caused by COVID-19 pandemic.  

"Immunisation saves millions of lives every year and is widely recognised as one of the world’s most successful health interventions. In this context, this year’s campaign will aim to build solidarity, and trust in vaccination as a public good that saves lives and protects health," the department said.  

In order to ensure the safety of children and healthcare workers, the department reminded parents, caregivers and other community members to comply with all COVID-19 protocols whenever they visit health facilities for child immunisation and other health services.