South Africa’s Health minister Zweli Mkhize has announced on Sunday, January 3 that the country aims to get Covid-19 vaccines by next month due to the resurgence in coronavirus infections driven partly by a new variant called 501.V2.
“We are targeting February, although all of that will depend very much on the success of the current bilateral negotiations,” he said at a news conference
The country is still in talks with pharmaceutical companies and no deals have been signed yet, Minister Zweli Mkhize said, amid growing criticism of the government’s response.
In an opinion piece published in major local news outlets on Saturday, a group of prominent health experts criticised the government for moving too slowly to procure sufficient vaccines.
Africa’s most industrialised nation is participating in the COVAX vaccine distribution initiative co-led by the World Health Organization but the scheme could only cover 10% of its population of roughly 60 million people and the first doses may only arrive in the second quarter of the year.
That has caused anxiety among some scientists and academics, who have urged the government to reach agreements with pharmaceutical companies quickly given that other countries have already started vaccinating.
Mkhize said at a news conference that officials were doing everything possible to obtain vaccines before the COVAX doses become available.
He also added that the ultimate aim was to vaccinate a minimum of 67% of the population to reach herd immunity.
He said the approach would be to target frontline healthcare workers in the first phase of vaccination, followed by a second phase comprising essential workers, people in congregate settings, people over the age of 60 and those aged over 18 with co-morbidities. A third phase of the rollout would target other people over the age of 18.
The government has had discussions with vaccine manufacturers including Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, as well as with ones in Russia and China, a health ministry presentation showed.
The presentation said negotiations had progressed well and the government was fairly confident of having supply in the first quarter.