By Jessie Taylor
South Africa’s vaccination programme has been boosted, with the waiting period between vaccine doses reduced. This will allow citizens to become fully vaccinated and bolster their immunity even faster.
According to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases of South Africa (NICD), vaccines have been shown to reduce severe disease and mortality from Covid-19 by up to 95 to 97%.
Since South Africa’s vaccine rollout programme, more than 31 million vaccine doses have been administered. Of the almost 40 million adults in South Africa, 47% have received at least one dose of vaccine, and nearly 43% have been fully vaccinated with their primary vaccine doses. More than one million booster doses have been administered across the country
According to the NICD, booster vaccination with the J&J or Pfizer vaccine is a reliable and safe way of increasing antibody levels.
Booster vaccine shots have been found to improve protection against Covid-19 infection and will reduce your chances of developing severe illness should you become infected. Because our immunity – both natural and from vaccines – wanes over time, it is essential to use booster shots to keep us protected against new variants of Covid-19, such as the Omicron variant. Reducing the time between doses ensures that South Africans have increased protection without delay.
Reduced waiting periods
In a recent statement, the Department of Health announced a reduction in the time between the administration of primary vaccine doses and booster shots.
A second dose of the Pfizer vaccine can be administered 21 days after the first dose from the end of February. This has been reduced from the waiting period of 42 days.
Pfizer booster shots will be administered three months after a second dose, instead of six months previously used by the Department.
The Department also announced a significant change to its vaccination programme: vaccine makes can now be mixed to improve immune response. This means that booster doses of a different vaccine to that which was administered as the primary dose can now be administered
Adults who received primary vaccination of the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine will now be able to have a booster dose of Pfizer. In addition, anyone who has had a primary vaccination of two doses of Pfizer will be able to have a booster dose of J&J. This method is called heterologous booster vaccination.
The vaccine availability at vaccination centres will guide the decision regarding which vaccine to administer as a booster. If both vaccines are available at a vaccination centre, homologous boosting will be used – unless the vaccinee requests to receive a heterologous or different booster dose or has a history of experiencing an adverse event following immunisation.
In addition to boosting immunity, mixing vaccines provides the additional benefit of reducing the demand on vaccine stocks and could potentially prevent vaccine resistance of future Covid-19 variants.
Because vaccines trigger different immune responses, mixing vaccine brands could offer different ways to stimulate your immune system, giving you a stronger immune response than using only one make.
The changes to the vaccination programme come as a way to increase uptake of Covid-19 vaccines in South Africa, said Health Minister Joe Phaahla.
“Covid-19 vaccines remain the most effective weapon against the pandemic and provide protection against Covid-19 infection,” Minister Phaahla said.
How does a vaccine work?
The vaccines contain genetic material from the virus that causes Covid-19. This genetic material delivers instructions to our cells, telling them to make a harmless protein that is unique to the virus. Once the cells have made copies of the protein, our bodies develop antibodies to this protein. Once this process is done, our bodies destroy the genetic material from the vaccine, and the antibodies are used to fight Covid-19 infection. Booster shots work in exactly the same way.
Building a vaccine manufacturing hub
South Africa has been selected by the World Health Organisation (WHO) as one of six African nations to receive vaccine technology transfer hubs. This technology will enable the country to produce mRNA vaccines at a scale that’s needed for the continent.
To kickstart this industry, President Cyril Ramaphosa and South African-born health technologies billionaire Patrick Soon-Shiong, opened the NantSA vaccine manufacturing facility in the Western Cape. This facility will interact with the hub, providing the RNA enzymes they need to produce vaccines, said President Ramaphosa.
The goal is for NantSA to generate a billion Covid-19 vaccines a year by 2025.