South Africans warned not to expect COVID-19 vaccine anytime soon

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For months, the message has been that normality would only really return when there is a readily available and viable coronavirus vaccine.

CAPE TOWN – Public health experts are warning South Africans not to hold their breath for a COVID-19 vaccine in the first half of next year.

The nation is in the grips of the second wave of COVID-19 infections. Two hundred and ten more people died in the country after contracting the coronavirus, bringing the national death toll to 23,661.

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The Department of Health on Tuesday also said 7,552 new infections were picked up over the past day, pushing the known number of cases since the start of the outbreak to over 873,000.

For months, the message has been that normality would only really return when there is a readily available and viable vaccine.

The UK and the US started their mass immunisation campaigns in the past week relying on so-called emergency use authorisations by their health authorities.

The problem is the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) cannot use those authorisations to approve the vaccine for use in the country.

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Senior researcher and public health lawyer at Wits University, Safura Abdool Karim, explained that SAHPRA has to go through its own validation process which could delay the rollout.

“People are sort of saying optimistically in the middle of next year, it could be later than that depending on how long it takes to get the approvals,” Karim said.

Then there is the matter of how we divvy up the limited vaccine doses we have.

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Covax – the global initiative aimed at working with vaccine manufacturers to provide countries worldwide with equitable access to safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines – has a recommended protocol.

But South Africa’s situation is complicated by high levels of comorbidity including, HIV, TB, Diabetes, and hypertension.

“All of these things make the population particularly vulnerable,” Karim said.

Epidemiologist Salim Abdool Karim said it is a fair assumption that frontline healthcare workers would be the first to get the vaccine, but government has not really worked out how to distribute limited doses beyond that.

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