Praise for US-SA Cooperation in Fighting Pandemic

This collaboration has seen growth in the support for the clinical development of Moderna, Novovax, Astra-Zeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines.

The Citizen |18 Mar 2021 | Brian Sokutu

Medical experts have credited the collaboration of the SA and US governments, which was behind the successful Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial roll-out that has seen President Cyril Ramaphosa and thousands of front-line healthcare workers in line for immunisation.

The rolling out of the single-dose vaccine with 85% efficacy in preventing severe symptoms of Covid-19 has seen 157 286 workers vaccinated under the Sisonke, or we are together, study, aiming to reach up to 500 000 nurses, doctors and health support staff, starting with 18 public hospitals across all nine provinces.

In a campaign to fight the virus, the government-to-government cooperation has included:

Partnership between SA and US scientists on vaccines research;

Encouraging safety around taking of the vaccine and encouraging the public to take it once widely available; and

Addressing hesitancy or conspiracy theories about vaccines.

SA Medical Research Council president Prof Glenda Gray and US embassy health attache Dr Sophia Siddiqui have been in the forefront of the Johnson & Johnson project.

Said Gray: “There has been a lot of cooperation between SA and the US government through the local embassy in fighting the Covid-19 epidemic. The US government has supported the trials of the Johnson & Johnson study in South Africa and has also supported the large-scale Sisonke study.

“This collaboration has seen growth in the support for the clinical development of Moderna, Novovax, Astra-Zeneca and the Johnson & Johnson vaccines and the co-sponsoring of Ensemble and the assistance to South Africa in the use of the J & J vaccine for Sisonke.”

Siddiqui commended the South African government for “a thoughtful and deliberate response to Covid-19”.

“The US and South Africa have a long history of partnership in health,” said Siddiqui.

“Covid-19 has shown us the importance of these collaborations as we tackle this pandemic, bringing together all our resources and leveraging decades of working together to strengthen the response.

“The US mission has been working with counterparts in SA to provide assistance where possible, to save lives.

“Our efforts have been aligned with the very specific challenges that the pandemic has forced on us.

“As SA began its efforts to proactively screen for Covid-19, we assisted with integrating our HIV efforts with the door-todoor screening campaign.”

Siddiqui added: “We also worked with our partners to strengthen disease surveillance to support this critical activity so data was available to guide critical decisions on containment and response.

“Through technical advisors, we assisted with many stages of planning and preparation.”

Siddiqui said the SA-US joint efforts “have to be done with an eye to the future”.

“It is the hope that these investments will not just save lives now, but will also strengthen healthcare, health systems and lay the groundwork for a stronger more resilient future, as threats and outbreaks are not something we will leave behind – even as we recover from this pandemic.”

Credit: Originally published in The Citizen, 18 Mar 2021. Writer: Brian Sokutu