The National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (NEHAWU) notes the update given by the Minister of Health, Dr Zwelini Mkhize and the team of scientists for the vaccination programme.
As NEHAWU, we appreciate the transparency in the handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination programme. We call on the Department of Health to continue updating the nation to ensure that all relevant and necessary information is communicated on time. Furthermore, the department must try to simplify the information and ensure that it available in all eleven official languages and in sign language as well.
We note the outcomes of the clinical trials which reveals that the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab fails to prevent mild and moderate COVID-19 from the new variant which is called the B.1.351 variant. The two-dose regimen of the vaccine did not show protection against mild-moderate Covid-19 due to the B.1.351. Furthermore, we note that department has decided to continue with the vaccination of healthcare workers using the Astra Zeneca vaccine and twinning the vaccination with an implementation study which will reveal more information on its efficacy and success rate in the country.
We also note the update on the Johnson and Johnson vaccine which has had 44 352 participants partaking in its trial with positive results. We call on our government to move with speed in procuring it because some of the participants were South Africans. Moreover, we call on the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to move with speed in authorising its use after satisfying itself with its safety for roll out.
The mutation of the virus necessitates constant and on-going research to ensure that we are not caught flatfooted as the country. In this regard, we call for more research on the variant and its mutation. The Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) must provide more funding for research studies to take place while the Department of Health must continue to prepare for the third wave which they predict that it will take place in the next four months.
The national union reiterates its call for government to widen its net in searching for more vaccines options. We call on government to consider the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine which published impressive phase 3 findings in the Lancet medical journal last week. The Sputnik V viral vector vaccine achieved efficacy of 91.6% in preventing symptomatic COVID-19 in a large phase 3 clinical trial.
Government must also consider vaccines from the Finlay Vaccine Institute from the Republic of Cuba. Two COVID-19 vaccines have been produced so far in Cuba and the trials for one of them, called the Sovereign I, are aimed at determining the optimal level of antigen strength for protecting people previously infected with COVID-19. The antibody levels of some have turned out to be low and the vaccine might provide a boost as well. Cuba is known of its cutting edge medical technology and expertise especially in preventative medical approach. Our government must not confine its search for vaccines to Western and European manufacturers only but to widen its search other countries for possible vaccines.
Vaccines offers one avenue of limiting the spread of transmissions, however, long term solutions must be explored especially for our people who do not have sufficient space to practise social distancing and those who live in unhygienic environments. More attention must be paid to the socio-economic realities of our people especially those from a working class and poor background. A betterment of the living conditions of those who live in squalor might lead to the slowing down of transmissions. Government must ensure that everyone has safe drinking water and hygienic ablution facilities to stop the spread of infections and germs.
NEHAWU will continue to encourage its members and workers to take the vaccines. We will continue with our campaign to educate both workers and the public to inform them about the dangers of COVID-19 and the importance of the vaccination programme. With our international friends, particularly, within the World Federation of Trade Unions (WFTU), the national union will drive aggressively the “Free for All Vaccine”, hence, it is busy engaging its sister unions in other countries for more tried and tested working vaccines with the view to open up better chances for our government to secure such vaccines.
Issued by NEHAWU Secretariat