President Cyril Ramaphosa, his deputy, David Mabuza, and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize braved the heavy downpours of rain to receive the first batch of Covid-19 doses.
A police escort was on hand to accompany the vaccines when they left the airport, and police were stationed at strategic points along the route to the live-saving cargo’s next destination.
Speaking from OR Tambo airport yesterday, Mkhize said the aim of the vaccination process was to inoculate about 67% of the country’s population by the end of the year – about 40 million people.
This first consignment was sourced from AstraZeneca, whose Covishield vaccine was developed in partnership with Oxford University.
The doses were produced at India’s Serum Institute and left the country on Sunday.
The Covishield vaccine comes in two doses and has to be stored at between 2 and 8°C, according to Department of Health deputy director-general Anban Pillay.
Symptoms are generally mild and can include a headache and dizziness which can last a few days after the vaccine is administered.
With the country expected to receive other vaccines from companies such as Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson, only one vaccine will be administered to each person. An individual cannot receive a different vaccine with each dose.
The first batch of vaccines was transferred into trucks parked outside the Emirates aircraft that landed just after 3pm.
The consignment will be held in cold storage at the Biovac warehouse in Johannesburg until the next leg of the journey.
The vaccine will be transported to the National Health Services national laboratory facility in Bloemfontein where it will undergo quality checks which can take between 10 and 14 days, according to Mkhize.
A heavy police presence accompanied the vaccines to the warehouse, and it is expected that security for the journey to Bloemfontein will be equally tight.
Following the quality check process, the vaccines will be distributed to all nine provinces and will be administered to health-care workers in both the private and public sectors.
Health-care workers form part of the first phase of the vaccination drive because of the dangerous their work poses. The country has lost a number of health-care workers to the virus.
The second and third phases will cover other front-line workers and the third phase will include the broader public.
The acting chief operating officer at the Department of Health, Milani Wolmarans, explained that an online database system has been created to monitor the vaccination process.
The system is called the electronic vaccine data system (EVDS).
The system will see health-care workers enrolled for the vaccination and application process.
It is unclear yet when the online data registration system will go live.