- One million Covid-19 vaccine doses, developed by AstraZeneca and supplied by India’s Serum Institute, have arrived in South Africa.
- These doses are due to stay in a secure, cold-chain management facility in Johannesburg while awaiting further test results conducted by the National Control Laboratory.
- Authorisation is expected to be granted between 12 and 16 February, at which time the doses will be delivered to provinces.
- In the meantime, government is finalising its provincial distribution model which is likely to see the doses kept in a central vaccine centre for each province.
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South Africa has received its first consignment of Covid-19 vaccines – but a lot of logistical hurdles, and another two weeks, stand between those doses and the health workers due to receive them.
After clearing customs in coordination with the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), the one million doses were handed over to Biovac. The bio-pharmaceutical company, formed in partnership with government in 2003, is tasked with overseeing the transport, storage, and distribution of the vaccines.
Using an unmarked cargo carrier, Biovac transported the vaccine to a warehouse in Johannesburg. This secure facility is equipped with cold-chain management systems to ensure the stability and efficacy of the temperature-sensitive doses.
The doses will be housed in the warehouse while samples are transported to the National Control Laboratory (NCL) in Bloemfontein. Once at the University of the Free State’s NCL facility, the samples will undergo a series of rigorous tests.
Under SAHPRA’s instruction, all medicines arriving in South Africa need to be sampled by the NCL to verify that ingredients and concentrations are as indicated by the supplier.
“This is routine,” says Popo Maja, spokesperson for the department of health.
“This is to assure ourselves that the vaccines meet the required standards and that they have not been compromised in any way during transition, that they were [kept] at the right temperature. We don’t want compromise any quality assurance.”
This testing process can take up to 14 days to complete and, in the meantime, no doses will be distributed. Speaking to Bhekisa, the centre for health journalism, Morena Makhoana, the CEO of Biovac, confirmed that while some processes were being “fast tracked”, the timeline associated with the testing of vaccines remained unpredictable and subject to change. Testing could be completed by 12 February as a best-case scenario described by health minister Zweli Mkhize.
Once NCL testing has been completed and accepted by SAHPRA, the vaccines stored at Biovac’s Johannesburg facility will be distributed to provinces. Delivery points are yet to be confirmed, but provincial health departments have alluded to centralised distribution centres which will supply clinics and hospitals, depending on demand.
This demand will, in part, be determined by way of the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), which, in phase one, requires all healthcare workers to register for their jabs. Once registered, healthcare workers will be allocated a vaccination appointment at an adequately supplied site.
Government agencies have been tight-lipped about security details relating to the transport and storing of these doses.
“There are security measures that are being put in place, which I can’t really go into detail about, to secure the transit and storage of the product,” said Rob Botha, the department of health’s logistics and technical expert.