Health Minister Zweli Mkhize insists South Africa’s Covid-19 mass vaccinations plan is on track.
He assures that at the peak of the vaccination rollout programme, between 250 000 to 270 00 citizens could receive the jab a day, “thus reaching population immunity within the period of a year”.
However, it remains unclear when this peak will be reached as the country’s vaccination count stagnates amid a slowdown in the procurement and delivery of jabs.
Phase 2 of the country’s vaccination programme is set to get underway after phase 1 targeting healthcare workers concludes on May 17.
This as Johnson & Johnson confirmed on Thursday that the country will receive almost 1.1 million doses of the vaccine in coming weeks.
These will come from the local Aspen plant in Gqeberha.
Speaking during a site inspection in Gauteng on Thursday, Mkhize said: “The country will receive an initial batch of more than 1 million Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccines before the end of April. This will be followed by 900 000 in May and another 900 000 in June.”
About 280 000 healthcare workers have been vaccinated in South Africa since the nation began its inoculation programme in February under the Johnson & Johnson Sisonke Protocol.
Phase 1 of the vaccination programme was meant to cover 1.2 million healthcare workers.
“Your protection is absolutely paramount and we continue to fight everyday to accelerate towards our targets and ensure that we complete phase one within the time frame we committed to,” said Mkhize.
The minister added that the country also expects the first batch of the Pfizer vaccine doses to arrive later in April as the country braces for the third wave of infections.
“We have now secured a combined 51 million doses of vaccines; 31 million from J&J’s one dose vaccine and 20 million from Pfizer’s two dose vaccine,” he said.
By Wednesday, the cumulative number of Covid-19 cases for South Africa was 1 553 609, with 756 new cases under level 1 of the lockdown.
Mkhize also announced that the Serum Institute of India had fully refunded South Africa for half a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which the country did not want and which had not yet been delivered.
Trial results had shown that the AstraZeneca vaccine is only 10.4% effective against the new 501Y.V2 Covid-19 variant.
He added that government continued to engage AstraZeneca as they pursue research and development for a next generation vaccine that can hopefully deal with the 501Y.V2 variant.
Meanwhile, the African Union’s (AU) disease control body said on Thursday it had dropped plans to secure for its members AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest vaccine supplier. This amid global shortfalls of the shot.
The announcement is another blow to AstraZeneca, which has touted its shot as the vaccine for the world because it is the cheapest and easiest to store and transport, making it well suited to the needs of developing countries.
It comes a day after European and British medicine regulators said they had found possible links between the vaccine and rare cases of brain blood clots, while nonetheless reaffirming its importance in protecting people.
John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), said the possible link had nothing to do with the AU’s decision and reiterated his recommendation that “the benefits of receiving the vaccine outweighs the risks”.
African countries will still receive AstraZeneca shots through the global vaccine-sharing facility Covax.
However, Nkengasong said the AU had shifted its efforts to securing doses from J & J, citing a deal announced last week to supply the continent with up to 400 million doses of its vaccine beginning in the third quarter. – Reuters