Dr Nigel Garrett, co-Principal Investigator of the South African Sisonke study

COVID-19 Vaccines – A Path Forward for South Africa

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Dr Nigel Garrett, Head of HIV Pathogenesis and Vaccine Research at the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA) and an honorary academic in UKZN’s School of Nursing and Public Health; delivered an invigorating webinar, hosted by the College of Health Sciences, on the COVID-19 vaccination programme in South Africa.

Facilitated by renowned public health clinician and acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor of Research and Innovation at UKZN, Professor Mosa Moshabela, the discussions centred on the efficacy of the COVID-19 Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine which is pending approval by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

Garrett, a co-Principal Investigator of the South African Sisonke study – a programme providing early access to the J&J vaccine in South Africa – said that, during the first week of the programme from 14 20 February, 51 000 healthcare workers were vaccinated with the J&J vaccine. This included approximately 7 500 in KwaZulu-Natal. Up to 12 000 healthcare workers are vaccinated on a daily basis. The Sisonke project will extend vaccine access within the next week to Edendale, Madadeni, General Justice Gizenga Mpanza and St Augustine’s hospitals. Thus far, those who have received the vaccine, have reported expected mild symptoms like pain, swelling and redness on the arm; a slight fever, chills and headaches.

According to Garrett, ‘In a global study including up to 44 325 people, the J&J vaccine indicated an efficacy rate of up to 85% in preventing severe COVID-19 disease, and it provided complete protection against COVID-19 related hospitalisation and deaths.’ While this is positive news, Moshabela queried whether the vaccine will remain effective as the virus continuously mutates. Garrett responded, ‘The SARS-CoV2 501Y.V2 variant has caused a lot of concern for scientists. The key is ongoing surveillance. Despite the fact that the virus keeps changing, it should not stop us from vaccinating. Instead, we should continue to monitor the evolution of the virus and adapt accordingly.

‘We now know that the vaccine works, so we must roll it out. If we wait six months, the virus may have mutated again and impacted on the efficacy of the vaccine. Right now, we know that it is efficacious against clinical disease and may also reduce transmission. The next step is to monitor for breakthrough infections among those that are vaccinated against COVID-19.’

Here are the steps for healthcare workers to register on the Department of Health COVID-19 vaccine website:

1. Register on EVDS: https://vaccine.enroll.health.gov.za/#/
2. Respond to the sms invite for early access
3. Provide consent to take part
4. Receive your vaccination voucher
5. Attend vaccination centre for administration

Words: MaryAnn Francis

Photograph: Supplied