South Africa has successfully inoculated more than 10% of its healthcare workers through the Sisonke Study, as more vaccine vials are expected to arrive this weekend.
To support the country’s risk-based, three-phased National COVID-19 Vaccine Rollout Strategy, Sisonke has enabled government to make the Johnson & Johnson shots immediately available to health professionals.
“There have been tremendous global efforts to find multiple vaccine candidates to protect against COVID-19 infection and subsequent development of the severe disease, this has led to the biggest vaccination campaign in history,” said the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC).
According to the statement released on Thursday, 157 286 healthcare workers have received their single-dose COVID-19 vaccine as of 17 March 2021.
Vaccination sites have increased from 17 to 47, while 12 more will be added by next week to ensure effective distribution in rural and urban settings.
The Council said these centres are located across all provinces where teams of researchers and vaccinators work up to 10 hours a day, seven days a week.
Sisonke is a collaboration between the National Department of Health, SAMRC, Desmond Tutu Health Foundation, Centre for the Aids Programme of Research in South Africa (CAPRISA), Janssen, and Johnson & Johnson.
The study is an open-label, pragmatic, real-world phase 3b clinical trial of the investigational single-dose Johnson & Johnson’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate among frontline healthcare workers in the country.
The programme was launched after the release of the Johnson & Johnson clinical trial results at the end of January, which indicated that the vaccine candidate had an efficacy rate of 64% protection overall.
“This vaccine was found to be efficacious against the 501Y.V2 variant, which first emerged in South Africa in October 2020.”
The Council said the trial allows government to make this safe and effective vaccine immediately available to healthcare workers using a research programme pending full licensing.
“The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has approved the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for the Sisonke Study while the full licensing process is underway.”
The prioritisation of healthcare workers is in line with the country’s rollout strategy, which is key to maintaining a healthy workforce to deal with the predicted third wave of COVID-19 admissions, the SAMRC said.
“Next in line will be the essential workers, persons in congregate settings and persons over 60 years old and persons over 18 with comorbidities, then later the general population.”
SAMRC President and CEO, Professor Glenda Gray, has vowed that no one will be left behind.
Gray, who leads the study as Principal Investigator, reiterated that vaccination sites in rural healthcare facilities were launched on 1 March and that more will be rolled out.
“There is also more stock arriving this weekend and the next and we have already applied to SAHPRA and discussed with the Department of Health, the intention to transition to a few more rural sites,” said Gray.
She emphasised the importance of the public understanding that although the vaccine is not yet licensed, this does not mean it is unsafe or ineffective.
“We have data on safety and effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,” she added.
The Professor and President Cyril Ramaphosa were among the first to receive the shot at Khayelitsha District Hospital, in Cape Town, last month to endorse the safety and importance of vaccinations.
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