South Africa has the capacity and the scientific muscle to develop its own COVID-19 treatments. This emerged during a webinar on the role of scientific research in mitigating the COVID-19 pandemic in the country.

The webinar was attended by the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

Department of Science and Innovation Director-General, Dr Phil Mjwara, says he hopes an announcement will be made in the next 18 months on how far it is in terms of ensuring locally-manufactured vaccines.

The country has secured 51 million coronavirus vaccines as the second phase of vaccination is expected to commence on 17 May:

The DSI says the National Policy Data Observatory plays an important role in understanding trends and links between vulnerable communities and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dr. Mjwara says it is important to bring together government departments and agencies in order to provide opportunities for the department to better coordinate and communicate complex data sets and analytics.

“ So, these are some of the products to date that are coming out of the observatory. For instance, COVID-19 provincial and districts daily stats, including trends, testing strategies, district profiles. Mobility reports and these were very useful to monitor curfews and restrictions and in fact, during the second wave, these were the strategy that was used to find out where these increases of infections were coming from. So, these are the products that we’ve started to develop that are helping during COVID.”

SAHPRA Chief Executive Officer, Dr Boitumelo Semete-Makokotlela says they support the initiative for locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccines.

“I do think also that the country has seen this pandemic as an opportunity really, to have a very clear national strategic intent for us to build this capacity and that’s a key element. There’s clearly political will. There is clearly support from the national government. There is clearly support from us as a regulator,” she says.

The SAHPRA says it is currently reviewing Sputnik V, SinoVac, and other vaccines for approval for COVID-19.

South Africa is currently vaccinating healthcare workers with the approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Over 200 000 people have been vaccinated so far.

“We have approved the Pfizer vaccine and we also have approved J&J and we are currently in the review of the Sputnik V, as well as SinoVac vaccines and we’re expecting to be receiving a number of others,” adds Dr Semete-Makokotlela.