Covid vaccine rollout in April

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By Kefiloe Kajane and ‘Majirata Latela

As part of efforts to prevent the spread of the global Covid-19 pandemic, Lesotho – like other countries – will start the rollout of a vaccine that is expected to land in the country in April.

According to the minister of health Motlatsi Maqelepo, the vaccine will come in batches and the first batch which will vaccinate three percent of Lesotho’s 2 million population.

Maqelepo said the first batch will vaccinate health care workers as they are the ones who take care of the people when they are sick and they are the frontliners.

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The second batch, whose date of arrival is not yet known, will cover 17 percent. The ministry is yet to confirm through a study that started in December, another batch of frontliners who are at risk of contracting the virus.

He said they so far do not know for sure which country or manufacturer the vaccine will be from, except that it will be from one of the countries in the COVAX Facilities.

“We are at this point not in a position to say which manufacturer our vaccine will be bought from because we do not know which manufacturer in the COVAX Facilities will be able to produce enough vaccine to supply many countries.

“Also, we are looking for a manufacturer in the COVAX Facilities that will be affordable and whose vaccine will be approved by World health Organization. We are also looking at a vaccine which will be affordable and that which our partners in health will also recommend to us, as they will also be helping us with funds,” Maqelepo said yesterday.

COVAX Facilities is a global initiative that brings together governments and manufacturers to ensure eventual COVID-19 vaccines reach those in greatest need, whoever they are and wherever they live. These 64 economies include commitments from 35 economies as well as the European Commission which will produce doses on behalf of 27 EU member states plus Norway and Iceland 

“We have started the process of procuring this vaccine and we are already working out the costs with the ministry of finance, to make sure that we have everything in place.

“We want Basotho to know that this vaccine is safe and it will be dispensed on the basis of vulnerability, but we are going to make sure that we put Basotho’s safety first’ These vaccines are approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO),” Maqelepo said.

The ministry of health’s senior programmes manager (vaccines), Tholoana Masupha, explained that some of the known side effects of the vaccine are a mild rash and mild fever.

Masupha said they are still learning more about the vaccine and they will keep updating the public about it before they can administer it on anyone. She said they only know that the vaccines manufactured by the COVAX Facilities are safe, as they have been tried on people and passed that stage, while also proving to be effective in preventing people from contacting Covid19.

“The vaccine is safe as there are people who are already being vaccinated in the European countries. At the moment, even if we were told that the vaccine is ready and we should go and fetch it, we wouldn’t because we have to consider certain aspects which include:

“Making sure that we have health workers who are trained to vaccinate people; and

“Making sure that our cold chain for vaccination storage is in order because these vaccines have different storage instructions that we will need to follow as they are not stored in regular refrigerators.”  

Touching on the issue of the Covid-19 treatment developed by the National University of Lesotho through their science and technology department, the minister of health said they are willing to invest in the treatment should there be a request to that effect and the treatment is approved by WHO.

Casting more light on the matter, Unicef’s cold chain officer Thato Mokhehle said when it comes to the vaccine, a person will have to take two doses in a period of a month for it to be effective.

“Although we cannot predict a time when we will have vaccinated enough people to ensure the safety of every individual, that is unlikely to be accomplished this year.

“It said that this vaccination has a 90 percent efficacy rate. When the vaccination is distributed, it will be free to all Basotho. Even when it gets here, it does not mean the journey ends there. There is still a lot to learn about the vaccine,” she said.

According to World Health Organisation (WHO) the COVAX Facility is part of COVAX, the vaccines pillar of the Access to COVID-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator, which is co-led by the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, and the World Health Organization (WHO) – working in partnership with developed and developing country vaccine manufacturers, UNICEF, the World Bank, Civil Society Organisations and others. 

The allocation of vaccines, once licensed and approved, will be guided by an allocation framework released by WHO following the principle of fair and equitable access, ensuring no participating economy will be left behind. Policies determining the prioritization of vaccine rollout within economies will be guided by recommendations from the WHO Strategic Advisory Group of Experts on Immunization (SAGE), which has recently released a values framework laying the groundwork for subsequent guidance on target populations and policies on vaccine use.

Meanwhile, South Africa’s health minister Zweli Mkhize yesterday, announced that an estimated 1.25 million health care workers both from public and private will be prioritised ensuring that they receive the vaccine by February 2021.

“It is for this reason that we announce that South Africa will be receiving 1 000 000 (one million) doses in January and 500 000 (five hundred thousand) doses in February from the Serum Institute of India (SII),” Mkhize said.