SOUTH AFRICA—To expand the accessibility of vaccines, the Department of Health has introduced new vaccines into the regular expanded immunization campaign, allocating a budget of R3.5 billion (US$188.32).

Health Minister Joe Phaahla announced this during a media briefing on Thursday, October 12, following a meeting with Health MECs in Centurion.

Despite a robust childhood immunization program, South Africa continues to experience outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, according to Phaahla.

He emphasizes the ongoing need to enhance coverage of existing vaccines and introduce additional vaccines to the extended program.

The department is also releasing a better-packaged vaccine to prevent whooping cough, tetanus, and diphtheria, reducing the likelihood of these disorders recurring in communities.

According to Phaahla, all modifications recommended by the ministerially appointed National Advisory Group on Immunization (Nagi) will take effect in January 2024.

Furthermore, the minister revealed that the Department of Home Affairs has budgeted for the setup and operational costs of expanding the Online Registration System by 91 health facilities during the fiscal year 2023/24.

This is part of a coordinated effort between the Departments of Health and Home Affairs to ensure timely registration of all newborns using the Online Birth Registration system, implemented in 161 health institutions.

The system can issue birth certificates on the spot, with installations at new sites beginning by the end of October 2023.

The minister also indicated modifications regarding COVID-19 vaccinations, shifting from a mass vaccination campaign to incorporating vaccination into routine primary healthcare services, as recommended by WHO.

The present accessible Pfizer vaccine stock purchased as part of the COVID-19 nationwide immunization launch will expire at the end of October 2023, and J&J vaccine doses will expire at the end of February 2024.

Phaahla disclosed that the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS) will continue recording all COVID-19 vaccinations until February 29, 2024.

Afterwards, those vaccinated will receive a paper record, but they can still download a vaccination certificate with at least one vaccination code.

The department intends to procure vaccines for the public sector and collaborate with the private sector to ensure availability, lifting all restrictions preventing private-sector providers from procuring vaccines.

Phaahla assured the continuation of the study and causation evaluation of COVID-19 vaccination-related Adverse Events Following Immunization (AEFIs) and maintained mechanisms for processing No-Fault Compensation Scheme claims.

He also provided updates on concerns affecting the public health system, including cost-cutting initiatives, audit findings, performance versus targets, and medico-legal claims.

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