1. How did you become involved in the Solidarity Fund, and why? Did it resonate with something inside you/ some past experience?
The first known case of Covid-19 reported in the world was on 17 November, 2019, in China.
Three months later, a global pandemic was declared and, on 23 March last year, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced South Africa’s first lockdown.
At the time, he also officially announced the establishment of The Solidarity Fund.
By this stage, the global community was starting to get an understanding of the impact that this pandemic would have on our world.
In South Africa, we certainly did not expect to escape the devastation.
When the President approached me to chair the Fund, I was grateful and honoured to be given an opportunity to play my part in the fight and agreed without hesitation.
I believed then, as I still do, that we all have a part to play in the fight against the pandemic and its devastating impact from a health, economic and societal perspective.
I was also determined, supported by my incredible team, to work to maximise the impact of the funds that the public, business and our international allies had entrusted to us.
Designed to be an umbrella platform for all South Africans to contribute to the fight against Covid-19, and operating as an independent entity, the Fund worked closely with government and Business for South Africa’s response teams, as well as engaging with civil society formations to ensure inclusivity and impact across the country.

2. What has been the biggest challenge for the fund?
The Fund went from nothing to a R 3billion organisation in a matter of weeks. Obviously, there were numerous challenges in setting up the structures of business and governance so that we could meet our mandate to government and the people of South Africa.
There are also challenges in identifying and vetting the right partners to help us in this rare endeavour.
For me, however, the biggest challenge that the Fund faces is ensuring that we make the biggest difference possible.
Our Funds are limited and there are so many areas and people that need our assistance or, should I say, our interventions.
We operate under three pillars – Health, Humanitarian Relief and Behavioural change.
Each is as important as the other and each puts huge demands on our financial resources. The truth is, sometimes we have to say “no” and it is heartbreaking.

It does, however, bring to the fore the importance of our adherence to our mandate. Using that as a guide, along with the requirement that our interventions have immediate and maximum impact, we are able to select projects that make a real difference.

From working with government and the department of health on ensuring the health system is supported, to humanitarian relief efforts such as our gender-based violence interventions and our food and farming vouchers, to our involvement in the vaccine rollout, I am so proud of the work that the Fund has done and the difference it has been able to, and will continue to, make.

3. What has been the biggest success of the fund?
Every intervention that we have undertaken has had its successes and its challenges.
We are proud of all the projects we have engaged in and all our triumphs and learnings.
In my mind this Fund’s greatest success is not what it has done but that it has been able to do it. The fact that the Fund exists and is able to do what it does is its biggest success.
This organisation and its mandate is unprecedented. From the very start, it united the private sector, national government, civil society and individuals behind a common goal.
Now, the Fund is using donations to support the government relief effort in areas of health, humanitarian relief and behavioural change. It reaches people across all nine provinces, in urban and rural areas and, it has made a clear impact on individual lives.
It supports existing organisations who are already doing such important work.
And it has enabled productive partnerships between a wide range of organisations, government and business who are working tirelessly to get help to the people who need it.

4. Has the experience made you optimistic or pessimistic about our future as South Africans?
There is no doubt that working for the Fund is rewarding, frustrating and heartbreaking all at once.
Despite this, I have a real sense of hope for our future.
Covid has tested us as few of us imagined we ever would be, but I have seen people working together, putting ego and agenda aside to try and make a real difference.
There is a real will to work together to beat this pandemic and help South Africa come out stronger. It’s the real meaning of solidarity and perhaps, also, will be the lingering legacy of the Fund.

5. Is there a particular incident which touched you personally in the process?
To make a positive impact on people’s lives, and help our country through this challenging time, is the reason why we are all here at the Solidarity Fund.
There are over 200 volunteers who work pro bono at the Fund with commitment and energy in, often, difficult circumstances.
Their passion and sense of responsibility to the people in South Africa inspires me every day. So, no, there is not a particular incident but, rather, a particular team.

March 23, 2020, was a date when the world changed for all of us as the country was placed under lockdown.

The nation’s resourcefulness and unity has found expression in the Solidarity Fund, which came into existence that same day.

In the days, weeks and months ahead our resolve, our resourcefulness and our unity as a nation will be tested as never before.” Cyril Ramaphosa

The Fund was, said Ramaphosa, “a rapid response vehicle” through which pooled contributions could be added to the national fight against the Covid-19 disease.”

To date, funds amounting to R3.34 billion have been pledged and R3.27 billion received from the private sector, political parties, foundations, international partners and notably, a large number of individuals.

R2.86 billion has been allocated across the Fund’s three pillars of Health, Humanitarian Relief and Behavioural Change. R2.27 billion has been disbursed.

Over the last year, the Fund has created substantial impact in its response to the national effort.

  • Strengthened the health system capacity to respond to the pandemic and donated critically needed resources and equipment such as PPE, essential medical equipment, and ventilators.
  • Strengthened testing capacity, access and coverage.
  • Supported local innovation and manufacturing of CPAP ventilators through CSIR and SAVE-P.

Although the Solidarity Fund’s interventions had as their

primary target the combatting of Covid-19, they will also have a long-lasting impact on the entire health system.

The Fund strengthened its Humanitarian and Behavioural Change initiatives to bolster the resources of those in need of food and gender-based violence relief, as well as promote long-term preventative behaviours.

The arrival of the Covid-19 vaccine on the global platform has shifted focus back to Health and the Fund has been working closely with the National Department of Health (NDoH) to ascertain where it can contribute to the programme.

The Fund’s work on National Vaccine Rollout Programme began when it was approached by the NDoH to catalyse the country’s entry into Covax with the upfront payment of R283m. Following that, on 11 February, the Fund received a request from the Director General of Health to contribute R50m towards an implementation study on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Tandi Nzimande, CEO of the Fund, says: “The last year has seen a lot of devastation and I am grateful that the Solidarity Fund has been able to be part of the solution.

“When we look back, we can be proud of the actions we took, the people we supported and the solidarity that we spread.”

GROUND BREAKING. Professor Jonas E Salk examines a vial containing
the polio vaccine on April 12, 1955 in Michigan. Pictures: AFP, iStock

It is generally accepted that the first vaccine arose from the experiments of English scientist Edward Jenner in the late 1790s. Jenner used material taken from pustules which erupted on the skin of people suffering from smallpox.

However, even before Jenner, physicians in the royal courts of Europe and the Middle east were using the process of “variolation” – whereby material would be taken from a patient with a mild infection and injected into someone else in the hope that a mild infection would be caused and, in turn stimulate the body’s defensive reaction.

There is some evidence that the Chinese were using such methods as early as 1000 AD. In the late 1600s Chinese Emperor K’ang Hsi, who had survived smallpox as a child, had his children inoculated, via the rather gruesome processing of blowing ground-up smallpox scabs into their nostrils.

Variloation was also practiced in Africa and Turkey as well, before it spread to Europe and the Americas.

However, over the centuries epidemic diseases swept the planet, from a smallpox epidemic in India which took the lives of more than 8 000 children in 1525, to a whooping cough epidemic in Paris 50 years later – and on to typhoid, measles and yellow fever in both Europe and the newly colonised lands of the New World.

In 1803, at the first meeting of the Royal Jennerian Society, Jenner insisted that the origin of the term vaccination, from the Latin for cow (“vacca”), be credited to his friend and fellow physician, Richard Dunning.

Just under a century after Jenner’s breakthroughs, French chemist and microbiologist Louis Pasteur formulated a rabies vaccine and inoculation procedure in 1885 which made a dramatic impact on that disease.

And then, at the dawn of what scientists know acknowledge as the age of bacteriology, antitoxins and vaccines against diphtheria, tetanus, anthrax, cholera, plague, typhoid, tuberculosis and more were developed right up to the 1930s.

After that, scientists raced ahead in developing methods which would accelerate vaccine research and development.

Methods for growing viruses in the laboratory led to rapid discoveries and innovations, including the creation of vaccines for polio. Researchers targeted other common childhood diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella, and vaccines for these diseases reduced the disease burden greatly.

MASS PROGRAMME. Vaccination against polio is carried out on several hundred thousand American children in the 1950s.

The story of the polio vaccine in the 1950s is probably the best illustration about how a vaccine can be safely, and widely used to virtually eliminate a disease. The fight against polio was given impetus by the then US President Franklin D Roosevelt, himself a victim of the disease.

American virologist and medical researcher Dr Jonas Salk developed one of the first successful polio vaccines which, after successful trials, was rolled out across the US and then globally, virtually eradicating the disease.

Source: https://www.historyofvaccines.org/ This an educational resource by the College of physicians of Philadelphia.

The Covid-19 global pandemic has brought untold death and suffering – physical, mental and emotional – and, at times, the future seems grim. But there is a ray of hope an positivity in the remarkable success of the race to develop a vaccine.

The speed – less than a year – in which the vaccines were developed has led some people to question the process, especially because the next fastest vaccine development process took four years – for the jab against mumps, in the 1960s.

Anthony S Fauci, director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to the president, said the starting point for Covid vaccines actually started much earlier than 2020.

In an editorial in Science magazine earlier this year, Fauci noted that foundations had already been laid in the development of “highly adaptable vaccine platforms” as well as “the adaptation of structural biology tools to design agents [immunogens] that powerfully stimulate the immune system”.

Also, there had been previous experience in medicine and science in dealing with the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), of which the latest version (SARS-COV-2) is the cause of Covid-19 disease. So the scientists had a huge head start.

Also, the fact that many of the vaccines were tested in Phase 3 efficacy trials at a time when the level of community spread of SARS-COV-2 was extremely high, meant highly useful data could be acquired in a short space of time.

Dan Barouch, director of the Center for Virology and Vaccine Research at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts, told Nature magazine that the Covid-19 experience will almost certainly change the future of vaccine science.

“It shows how fast vaccine development can proceed when there is a true global emergency and sufficient resources,” he said.

Many of the vaccines were given emergency use approvals by governments around the world – but that does not mean they have not been sufficiently tested.

Data regarding their long-term safety will continue to come in.

SciTech Daily noted earlier this year: “Despite the speed in which these vaccines have been developed, the important regulatory and evaluation checkpoints designed to protect patients were followed. These milestones help to determine how safe and effective a vaccine will be, and whether or not the benefits are worth any potential risks.”

That is the most crucial point for ordinary people to consider – especially in the face of the amount of conflicting opinion, and downright fake information out there about vaccines.

Kathleen Mullane, director of infectious disease clinical trials at University of Chicago Medicine, sums it up: “Even the most effective vaccine can’t protect us or our loved ones if people are afraid to take it or will not take it.”

Learning about immunity

  • Getting Covid-19 may offer some protection, known as natural immunity. Current evidence suggests that reinfection with the virus that causes Covid-19 is uncommon in the months after initial infection, but may increase with time.
  • The risk of severe illness and death from Covid-19 far outweighs any benefits of natural immunity. Covid-19 vaccination will help protect you by creating an antibody (immune system) response without having to experience sickness.
  • Both natural immunity and immunity produced by a vaccine are important parts of Covid-19 disease that experts are trying to learn more about. – Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, USA.

What  is a Covid-19 vaccine?

In general, vaccines contain weakened or inactive parts of a particular organism that triggers an immune response within the body. This weakened version will not cause the disease in the person receiving the vaccine, but it will prompt their immune system to respond.

Some vaccines require multiple doses, given weeks or months apart. This is sometimes needed to allow for the production of long-lived antibodies and development of memory cells. In this way, the body is trained to fight the specific disease-causing organism, building up memory against the pathogen so it can fight it in the future.

What is herd immunity?

When a lot of people in a community are vaccinated, the pathogen has a hard time circulating because most of the people it encounters are immune.

So the more that others are vaccinated, the less likely people who are unable to be protected by vaccines are at risk.

This is called herd immunity.

No single vaccine provides 100% protection, and herd immunity does not provide full protection to those who cannot safely be vaccinated.

But with herd immunity, these people will have substantial protection, thanks to those around them being vaccinated.

Vaccinating not only protects you, but also protects those in the community who are unable to be vaccinated.

Covid-19 vaccines go through a rigorous, multi-stage testing process, including large trials that involve tens of thousands of people.

These trials, which include people at high risk for Covid-19, are specifically designed to identify any common side effects or other safety concerns.

Once a clinical trial shows that a Covid-19 vaccine is safe and effective, a series of independent reviews of the efficacy and safety evidence is required, including regulatory review and approval in the country where the vaccine is manufactured, before the World Health Organisation (WHO) considers a vaccine product for prequalification.

An external panel of experts convened by the WHO analyses the results from clinical trials, along with evidence on the disease, age groups affected, risk factors for disease, and other information. The panel recommends whether the vaccines should be used.

There is overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccination is the best defence against serious infections. Vaccines do not give you the virus, rather they teach your immune system to recognise and fight the infection.

The Covid-19 vaccine presents the body with instructions to build immunity. Vaccines have reduced the morbidity and mortality of infectious diseases across the world.

How will the vaccine be distributed?

SA’s rollout of the vaccine will take a three-phase approach that begins with the most vulnerable in our population. The target is to vaccinate 67% of the population by the end of 2021.

  • Phase 1 will focus on frontline healthcare workers
  • Phase 2 will vaccinate essential workers, persons in congregate settings, persons over 60 years and persons over 18 years with co-morbidities
  • Phase 3 will focus on persons older than 18 years, targeting 22 500 000 of the population.
  • Department of Health, SA

The vaccination roll-out is about to accelerate rapidly, so you – and your friends and family – need to be prepared.

The process to get vaccinated

A national register for Covid-19 vaccinations, the Electronic Vaccination Data System (EVDS), will be based on a pre-vaccination registration and appointment system. All those vaccinated will be placed on a national register and provided with a vaccination card. A national rollout committee will oversee the vaccine implementation in both the public and private  sectors.

How does EVDS work?

Individuals have to register on the system to get an appointment. Those who qualify will be sent a notification through SMS, with a unique code, informing them of the time and place where their injection will be administered.

Individuals will have to present their unique code (received through SMS), their original ID document, valid driver’s licence, passport or affidavit at the vaccination site.

As part of this monitoring, there are plans to send reminders for follow-up appointments (to receive the second dose) and to include an integrated track-and-trace system for those who do not show up to receive their second shot. A dashboard system is also being developed to capture reasons given for vaccine refusal.

The EVDS opened for people over the age of 60 years on 16 April. If you are 60 or older and have not yet registered, then do so. If you have friends or relatives in that age group who have not yet registered, urge them to do so.

Please assist, if you can, those who do not have internet access or who are not computer literate.

What you need to register

Access to the internet.

Your ID number or passport (non-RSA), contact information.

Information about your employment (primary employer and location of work)

Where relevant, your professional registration details, and medical aid are also requested.

With all information at hand registration should take about 2-3 minutes (three steps).

Info

The EVDS does not collect any “special personal information” about you as a vaccinee. For this purpose, “special personal information” relates to:

  • The data about your race or ethnicity;
  • religious or philosophical beliefs;
  • sex life;
  • political opinions or trade union membership;
  • Information about your health and biometric data; and
  • information about criminal convictions and offences.

Data transfer

Anonymised data will be transferred to the NDOH database for reporting. No personal data will be transferred from the EVDS, without the required legislative provisions to do so.

Security and Privacy

  • Login details are secure
  • The Department of Health employs stringent technical and best practice procedures in place to ensure the integrity of Personal Information is safeguarded against the risk of loss or damage and against the unauthorised or unlawful access.
  • All systems are Protection of Personal Information (POPI) Act compliant and allow for capturing of user and client consent in the case of capturing personal information.

One of the biggest potential problems in the roll out of Covid-19 vaccinations has been the viral pandemic of false and misleading information about the vaccines, which is causing even ordinarily level-head people to refuse to be inoculated.

Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, said earlier this year that he is worried about social media being hijacked to spread these false claims.

“While people are facing the real threat of losing their lives, fake news and misinformation are causing them to be paranoid, and to doubt the usefulness of vaccines and other public health interventions,” the minister said.

Myth: Vaccines are unsafe and rushed
Fact: No step in the development and testing of the Covid-19 vaccines has been skipped. Millions of people who have already taken the vaccine have NOT become ill or died.

Myth: The vaccine will change my DNA
Fact: Some people think that because some of the vaccines are made using RNA technology, it means the RNA will interact with their DNA. The vaccine CANNOT change your DNA.

Myth: Vaccines contain microchips to track and control people
Fact: There is NO microchip or any other substance in a vaccine that can be used to track or control people.

Myth: 5G networks cause the coronavirus through radiation emissions
Fact: Viruses CANNOT travel on radio waves and mobile networks. Covid-19 has spread in many countries that do not have 5G mobile networks.

Myth: The vaccines have the mark of the Beast – 666
Fact: Vaccines have no connection with any religious organisations and cannot be infused with spirits, demons or other abstract ingredients. There is no conspiracy to possess, bewitch or control anybody.

Myth: The Covid-19 vaccine causes infertility in women.
Fact: Misinformation on social media suggests the vaccine trains the body to attack syncytin-1, a protein in the placenta, which could lead to infertility in women. The truth is, there’s an amino acid sequence shared between the spike protein and a placental protein; however, experts say it doesn’t affect fertility.

Myth: You can get COVID-19 from the vaccine.
Fact: You cannot get COVID-19 from the vaccine because it doesn’t contain the live virus.

This is NOT a Myth:

Even if you have been vaccinated, you must still adhere to the Covid-19 safety protocols:

  • Wear a mask that covers your nose and mouth to help protect yourself and others.
  • Stay two metres apart from others who don’t live with you.
  • Avoid crowds and any poorly ventilated indoor spaces.
  • Wash your hands often and thoroughly with soap and water. Use a hand sanitiser if soap and water aren’t readily available in your area.