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SA to use barcodes to track and trace COVID-19 vaccines

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The South African government is in the process of establishing an electronic vaccination data system (EVDS) for management and surveillance of the COVID-19 vaccine.

This is to avail data needed for monitoring vaccine uptake and coverage, prioritisation of the groups, planning, safety monitoring and vaccine effectiveness, revealed Dr Anban Pillay, deputy director-general (DDG) at the Department of Health.

The health DDG, who is also a member of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on vaccines, was speaking during a presentation of SA’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout strategy on Sunday.

According to Pillay, the EVDS will leverage off existing electronic systems, which are currently deployed and implemented at scale.

He explained that the system will support the collection and provision of information such as patient demographics, the number of doses taken, the health establishment where this happened, vaccine administered, any adverse events that occurred, and a record of vaccination issued to individuals.

Pillay added that vaccine security is also an important issue. “We have learnt from the distribution in other countries that the safety and theft of vaccines is a problem.

“We will be tracking the vaccines and the vehicles moving them through,” he notes. “There’ll be track and trace of vaccines using barcode scanning as well as the safe and secure disposal of these packaging, vials and data verification linked to the volumes that have been submitted.”

Second wave

South Africa is currently in the throes of a second wave of the coronavirus, which health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize described as affecting the country at much higher levels than the first wave.

Mkhize stated that over one million South Africans have tested positive for COVID-19, with the number of positive cases rising to 18 000 per day. The fatality rate has also gone up to 29 000.

“We have seen that the only way to deal with COVID-19 pandemic, not only in South Africa but throughout the world, is the provision of immunity through vaccination. The issue of rolling out vaccines has to be done with urgency,” said the health minister.

According to Pillay, the vaccine programme is intended to impact on the spread of COVID-19 across the country.

He explained that government needs to look at the vaccines that are available and understand how best to procure and roll these out.

Due to the fact that the supply of the vaccine as well as the capacity to immunise people will take time in each group, government will take a phased approach to administer the vaccines, with the first phase being frontline healthcare workers.

The target population, based on estimates, is about 1.2 million for the first phase, according to him.

Phase two has a number of categories, he states, adding that it will see essential workers such as persons in congregate settings, persons that are over 60 years old as well as those that have comorbidities that are associated with high mortality for COVID-19.

Essential workers include police officers, miners, security workers, funeral services workers, teachers, banking, and essential municipal and home affairs, border control and port health services. Pillay pointed out that the essential workers list is not an exhaustive one, but will, over time, include a broader range of potential essential workers that will need to fall into this specific category.

“The persons in the congregate settings, those that are in care homes, detention centres, etc, they will all be part of the second phase as well, so would anybody who is over 60 years of age, and then finally those persons that are older than 18 years with comorbidities such as diabetes and chronic lung disease.”

The third phase will identify persons that are over 18 years that would potentially need to be vaccinated to get to the ‘herd immunity’ target also known as population immunity. 

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