There has been good news of late with three pharmaceutical giants revealing that their vaccine trials are showing promising results.
The coronavirus vaccine from Pfizer has proven to be 95% effective, while the Moderna vaccine reduced the risk of catching the virus by 94.5%. This week it was announced that the Oxford vaccine showed a strong immune response in the elderly. The news comes as most of Europe is experiencing a second wave of the virus and infection rates are beginning to rise again in South Africa.
But as these vaccines become available, Rajesh Narwal, a health systems adviser at the World Health Organisation (WHO), believes there will be a rush by nations to secure stock.
“The point is that already a lot of these vaccines have already been pre procured by wealthier nations,” said Narwal, who yesterday was speaking at a webinar that discussed the implications of an international Covid 19 vaccine policy.
But the WHO is ensuring that other nations will have access to vaccines, even though this will mean producing two billion units by the end of 2021.
This will be through the COVAX programme which was launched in April by the WHO, the European Commission and France. COVAX in part aims to ensure universal access to any Covid-19 vaccine.
Narwal expects South Africa to see the arrival of a vaccine either in the first quarter of next year but more likely in the second quarter.
Like other countries, South Africa is set to adopt a phased approach. Stage one would see health workers prioritised and immunised, they would be followed by the elderly. Stage two will see 11% to 20% of the population vaccinated where people with comorbidities and high priority teachers will get the shot. In stage three up to 50% of the population will be immunised, including other essential workers.
“This access needs to be done in such a way that it does not put a strain on economies and the people,” he added. It is likely that the vaccine will be a double dose combination.
A concern Narwal has is anti-vaxxers refusing to take the vaccine.
“A lot also depends on the vaccine that countries adopt,” Narwal said.
Under COVAX poorer nations will pay between $1 and $3 a dose.
Narwhal further warns that any delay in taking action to prepare for the arrival of the vaccine could cost a country in lives and the economy.
Khadija Jamaloodien of the National Department of Health, said that the government has put measures in place to facilitate the arrival of a vaccine. A ministerial advisory committee on the Covid-19 vaccine had been set up. There is also a National Strategy Framework, which is designed to make recommendations to the minister on funding, cost implications and other issues. The National Strategy Framework is still under development, although different groups within it, said Jamaloodien, are working on issues related to vaccines.
“The goal is to have access to and supply a safe and an effective Covid-19 vaccine,” she said.
But if South Africa had to go the way of manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines there will be a number of obstacles, said Glaudina Loots, the director for Health Innovation at the Department of Science and Technology.
She said manufacturing a vaccine is difficult. Also setting up a facility to manufacture a vaccine in Africa would be expensive. “To build capacity across Africa we need to take into account that we need R2 billion to establish a facility that can fill 500 million doses, and to put this facility together will take two years.” she said.
An additional R2bn would be needed for manufacturing.
In the meantime, Narwal warned that health authorities and South Africans need to guard against virus fatigue as we head into the holiday season and await next year’s anticipated arrival of the vaccine.
The Saturday Star