Deputy President David Mabuza says the vaccine rollout is not happening as fast as was hoped. Mabuza visited the pharmaceutical company, Biovac Insitute in Cape Town, to view the possibilities the facility holds in enabling South Africa to manufacture its own vaccines in the future.

As Chairperson of the Inter-Ministerial Committee on COVID-19 Vaccines, Mabuza says more vaccines are scheduled to arrive in the country soon.

More than 150 000 frontline healthcare workers have been inoculated as part of the Johnson & Johnson trial vaccines.

The plan was to upscale the vaccination programme towards the end of March. However Mabuza says a shortage in supply is a major hurdle.

“No good news, we are still struggling with availability. Of course, J&J is picking up now and Pfizer will come into play so in the next few weeks we are expecting more vaccines. We thought by the end of March we would reach a million but it doesn’t look like it, probably the first week of April, the second week of April, that’s when we’re going to reach a million. But as we are speaking now inoculation is continuing, though not at a very good pace. I can say the pace is not good.”

SABC News reporter Mariska Botha shares more on Mabuza’s visit to the Biovac Institute:

Vaccines for children

Since November last year, the facility started manufacturing aspects of and packaging a vaccine for children. In partnership with a French company, the vaccine is used against six diseases including Hepatitis B and Polio. Biovac has also signed an agreement with an American-based company that is developing a COVID-19 vaccine. The company is owned by a South African-born doctor.

Clinical trials of the vaccine have started. Projects like this are hoped to ramp up the capabilities of companies such as Biovac.

“Besides capacity what is important is to be able to get into what we term active pharmaceutical ingredient, that is raw material that is needed to manufacture vaccines. The country does not have that capacity, the continent does not have that capacity and the next phase of Biovac is to get into API manufacture in order for us to be self-sustainable on a routine basis but be able to respond to the next pandemic,” says Chief Executive Officer of the Biovac Institute, Dr. Morena Makhoana.

Government’s future plans regarding the institute

The government owns nearly half of the Biovac Institute and says planning towards safeguarding South Africa and the continent from pandemics is crucial.

“But the plan is also to move even higher the value chain such that we are able to produce, invest of course initially in our own research and development so that we can produce and manufacture our own vaccines, hopefully starting with COVID-19 but also in developing other vaccines,” says Minister of Science and Technology Blade Nzimande.

Mabuza says R10 billion has been budgeted for the acquisition of vaccines and deals have been signed with Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer BioNTech.