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Source: South Africa News Agency

The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC) is in the final stages of the preparation for a study to determine the extent of COVID-19 infection in the general population with age-specific prevalence, as determined by seropositivity, Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, said on Wednesday.

Nzimande said the proposed study will use two waves of cross-sectional population-based household sero-prevalence surveys, and will be implemented in all the nine provinces. 

The survey will target all locality types, including urban areas, rural formal and rural informal areas.

Addressing media on regulations relating to the COVID-19 level 1 restrictions, Nzimande said the Department of Science and Innovation is an active participant in the Health Ministerial Advisory Committee, which is looking at the manufacturing of the COVID-19 Vaccines.

Successful vaccines expected early next year

Nzimande said it is envisaged that the first successful vaccines will be delivered in early 2021. 

However, he said the upscaling of the manufacturing pipeline for hundreds of millions, or even billions of doses, will also require intense collaboration and needs to be done in such a way that “it will not compromise the production of other essential vaccines”.

“In order for South Africa to be able to secure early access to and delivery of safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines and treatments, as soon as they become available, we will be developing and implementing a comprehensive COVID-19 Vaccine Strategy, which among others, will ensure that there is sufficient supply of a safe and effective vaccine to achieve population immunity to COVID-19,” Nzimande said.

With limited vaccine manufacturing capacity around the world, Nzimande said South Africa will have to prioritise its own requirements, in the interest of securing access to the vaccine as a matter of national security. 

“We will be expanding the current BIOVAC operations to produce the drug substance required to act against the COVID-19 virus,” the Minister said.

BIOVAC is a public-private-partnership company formed by government and the private sector in 2003 to produce local vaccines in South Africa. It predominantly operates in the downstream part of the vaccine manufacturing value chain, with primary activities geared towards formulation and filling of drug products, as well as final product labelling, packaging and distribution.

COVID-19 knowledge, attitude study

Nzimande said through the HSRC and Higher Health, the department is carrying out a COVID-19 knowledge and attitude study in young people, and the results of the online survey are almost complete.

“We will in due course make the outcomes of this study available to the public. We have also converted the existing health and demographic surveillance operations at three rural nodes, namely, Bushbuckridge Local Municipality in Mpumalanga, Capricorn District Municipality in Limpopo, and Umkhanyakude District Municipality in KwaZulu-Natal, to incorporate COVID-19 telephonic surveillance and case finding. 

“The operations cover 300 000 residents in these areas. The surveillance measures the impact of non-pharmaceutical interventions against COVID-19 on rural households and individual mental health, and supports local health authorities in their fight against COVID-19.

“We will also be undertaking the Wastewater COVID-19 surveillance work at some Gauteng identified nodal points.  This will contribute to an early warning system for COVID-19 resurgence and other emerging pathogens,” Nzimande explained.

Connectivity

Meanwhile, Nzimande said the department has also ensured that it connects all the 320 plus Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) campuses to the South African National Research Network (SANReN) at 200 Mbps, allowing access to connectivity, optimisation and other services, which are particularly useful for working off campus.

“The work is conducted through the National Integrated Cyberinfrastructure System (NICIS),” Nzimande said

The Department of Science and Innovation’s branding campaign will, among other achievements, be showcasing its work in response to COVID-19. 

“The department, since its inception and with two White Papers on its journey of developing and coordinating a national system of innovation, will be showcasing some of its achievements – especially the work on COVID-19 interventions and its journey of transformation in the democratic era.

“I hope that through these campaigns, there will be a better appreciation of the impact of science, technology and innovation on our society, and a greater understanding that science saves lives,” the Minister said. – SAnews.gov.za

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