President Cyril Ramaphosa has asked Higher Education, Science and Technology Minister Blade Nzimande to begin the process of developing a COVID-19 vaccine.
Ramaphosa made the announcement during his response to the State of the Nation Address (SONA) debate in Parliament on Thursday.
Developing own capability
He said, “I have asked the Minister to put together a team of scientists to begin the process of developing our own vaccines so that we can deal with this pandemic and future ones.
“We must develop the scientific capabilities that our country has demonstrated to prepare for the future. I want to meet those scientists and tell them [that] this is now urgent. It is urgent that we develop our own capability instead of running around the world looking for vaccines. We must develop them here and now.”
The government has come under criticism from various commentators and opposition parties for allegedly being late to procure COVID-19 vaccines.
It also had to delay the rollout of the first vaccine it procured, the AstraZeneca vaccine from Serum Institute of India, after tests showed it had a reduced efficacy against a new COVID-19 variant discovered in South Africa.
The rollout finally got underway on Wednesday (17 February) with the Johnson&Johnson vaccine. Ramaphosa and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize were among the first to get vaccinated.
The government hopes to vaccinate at least 67 percent of the population, or 40 million people, to achieve herd immunity by the end of the year.
Ramaphosa assured MPs that the vaccine distribution throughout the country is on track and is being conducted in partnership with the Biovac Institute.
“Biovac, a partnership between the government and the private sector, is using the vaccine storage and distribution infrastructure and capabilities to assist with the distribution of vaccines to different vaccination centres,” the President said.
According to its website, Biovac “coordinate(s) supply and demand with offshore suppliers, the South African Department of Health, private sector partners and other partners to ensure that the required vaccines get to where they are needed.”
“Over 15 million doses of vaccines are delivered a year via our cold and supply chain infrastructure to ensure that the quality of the vaccines at the point of use is guaranteed,” it states.