With limited vaccine manufacturing capacity around the world, South Africa will have to prioritise its own requirements in the interest of securing access to a vaccine as a matter of national security, said the Minister of Higher Education, Science and Innovation, Dr Blade Nzimande.
Addressing a media briefing this afternoon, the Minister said that it was expected that the first successful vaccines would be delivered in early 2021.
“However, the upscaling of the manufacturing pipeline for hundreds of millions, or even billions, of doses will require intense collaboration and needs to be done in such a way that it will not compromise the production of other essential vaccines.”
South Africa's total COVID-19-related death toll is now over 16 500.
“In order for South Africa to be able to secure early access to, and delivery of, safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments as soon as they become available, we will be developing and implementing a comprehensive COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy,” said the Minister.
The strategy's aims include ensuring an adequate supply of a safe and effective vaccine to achieve population immunity to COVID-19.
The Minister said the current operations of Biovac, a company established in 2003 as a public-private partnership to produce local vaccines in South Africa, would be expanded. The upscaling of Biovac's manufacturing capabilities is important to ensure that COVID-19 vaccines can be manufactured for African use by an African company.
The Minister also spoke about developments at the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), which is in the final stages of preparation for a study to determine three things – the extent of SARS-Cov-2 virus infection in the general population with age-specific prevalence, as determined by seropositivity; the proportion of asymptomatic or subclinical COVID-19 infections; and the incidence rate of COVID-19 infections as determined by change from negative to positive sero-status in an embedded cohort of respondents in the four metropolitan municipalities with the highest reported cases of COVID-19 infections in the country (i.e. Cape Town, Durban, Johannesburg and Nelson Mandela Bay).
The proposed study will use two waves of cross-sectional population-based household sero-prevalence surveys, targeting urban areas, and both formal and informal rural areas.
The HSRC is also working with Higher Health, a Department of Higher Education and Training initiative, to carry out a COVID-19 knowledge and attitude study in young people. The results of the online survey are almost complete and will be made available to the public in due course.
Regarding COVID-19 surveillance, existing health and demographic surveillance operations at three rural nodes have been converted to incorporate COVID-19 telephonic surveillance and case finding. The nodes are at Bushbuckridge Local Municipality (Mpumalanga), Capricorn District Municipality (Limpopo) and Umkhanyakude District Municipality (KwaZulu-Natal).
The operations cover 300 000 residents in these areas. The surveillance measures the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions against COVID-19 on rural households and individual mental health, and supports local health authorities in their fight against COVID-19.
“We will also be undertaking wastewater COVID-19 surveillance work at some identified Gauteng nodal points. This will contribute to an early warning system for COVID-19 resurgence, as well as other emerging pathogens,” said the Minister.
Under the Department of Science and Innovation's National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System, all technical and vocational education and training campuses have been connected to the South African National Research Network at 200 Mbps, allowing access to connectivity, optimisation and other services that are particularly useful for working off campus.
The Minister said the Department's response to the COVID-19 crisis had highlighted the impact of science, technology and innovation on society, and the need for a greater understanding that science saves lives.
Issued by: Department of Science and Innovation
Distributed by APO Group on behalf of South African Government.