CORONAVIRUS

Zweli Mkhize announces imminent arrival of the first batch of the Pfizer Covid vaccine

By Estelle Ellis 2 May 2021

A nurse prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNtech Covid-19 vaccine. (Photo: EPA-EFE / SEDAT SUNA)

The Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced that the first batch of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine was expected to arrive in South Africa on Sunday night, but added that there had been a slight delay in the release of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The first batch of the Pfizer vaccine (325,260 doses) was expected to land at OR Tambo International Airport on Sunday, 2 May, just before midnight, the Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize, announced.

He said a safety plan for the vaccines had been designed by the National Joint Operational and Intelligence Structure (NatJoints), and all security agencies would be engaged to ensure that the necessary security procedures were in place for safe delivery of the vaccine.

“Upon arrival the entire batch will be transported initially to a central warehouse. Samples will be sent to the National Control Laboratory for quality assurance and, after release, will be distributed to the provinces.

“Following this initial delivery of Pfizer we are expecting approximately the same number of doses, ie, 325,260, to arrive on a weekly basis to a total of over 1.3 million doses by the end of May. 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,” Mkhize said.

He said the doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that were compounded at the Aspen Pharmacare sterile medicine plant in Gqeberha were expected to be released around the middle of May. 

Last week the director-general of the national Department of Health, Dr Sandile Buthelezi, told Parliament’s Health Portfolio Committee they had expected the delivery of one million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the week of 26 April.

Mkhize said the delay was due to “a protracted safety verification process with international regulatory agencies (the American Food and Drug Administration, the European Medicines Agency and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority).

“This is a precautionary measure following the adverse findings during inspection of Emergent BioSolutions Bayview facility in the United States of America, one of the manufacturing partners of Johnson & Johnson, which prompted the authorities to extend their assessments of all Johnson & Johnson stock worldwide.” 

Fifteen million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the US had to be discarded after the Food and Drug Administration made adverse findings relating to quality control against Emergency BioSolutions’ Bayview plant.

Mkhize said quality control assessments of the vaccines compounded at the Aspen plant in Gqeberha were ongoing. 

“We are confident that the final outcome will be positive and that, provided there are no further disruptions, Johnson & Johnson will be in a position to release the stock from the Aspen plant in Gqeberha by the middle of May. The stock is currently finished and ready for dispatch. 

“In the meantime, we will continue to vaccinate our healthcare workers with the remaining early access doses of Johnson & Johnson (through the Sisonke Implementation Study) and we will proceed to vaccinate with Pfizer. We therefore continue to call on all healthcare workers, including traditional healers, and all citizens 60 years and above to register on the EVDS [Electronic Vaccination Data System] as we continue to roll out vaccines.” 

Buthelezi said in his presentation that South Africa was expecting three million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the second quarter of the year, as well as 4.7 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine (enough for 2.35 million people, as this vaccine requires two shots). DM/MC

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