Dis-Chem will start to administer between 500 and 600 Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccines per site at 11 mass vaccination sites in five provinces from Monday 24 May.
Dis-Chem is planning to vaccinate around 6,000 people per day at the 11 vaccination sites in Gauteng, Eastern Cape, Western Cape, KwaZulu-Natal, and Free State.
At each vaccination site there will be 12 nursing practitioners who will help people to get vaccinated.
If there is strong demand for the Pfizer vaccine, Dis-Chem will expand its operations to 32 mass vaccination sites across the country.
Commenting on the decision to initially only use mass vaccination sites, Dis-Chem’s national head of clinics, Lizette Kruger, said it related to the cold storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is an mRNA vaccine which uses the genetic material of the virus to deliver a specific set of instructions to our cells.
In simple terms, it tells our cells to make a specific protein for the immune system to recognise and respond to COVID-19.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) said the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 mRNA vaccine is safe and effective, with an efficacy of 95% based on data from an ongoing large-scale clinical trial.
It is a two-dose vaccine where shots should be taken two weeks apart.
It is a preferred vaccine for many nations, but requires careful planning because of its cold storage requirements.
The vaccine needs to be stored at between -25°C and -15°C to ensure it stays stable. Pharmaceutical freezers and refrigerators are typically needed for this.
If it needs to be stored for longer than two weeks, the vaccine must be kept in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures between -80°C and -60°C.
Because of the storage requirements of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, it will not be offered at Dis-Chem stores.
Kruger said while it may be disappointing that they will not immediately offer vaccinations at their stores, it is in the pipeline.
When the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is released, Dis-Chem will make it available at its stores countrywide. Johnson & Johnson is a single-shot vaccine with less stringent cold storage requirements.
Dis-Chem is aiming for between 20 and 40 vaccinations per store across its nearly 200 stores in South Africa.