Johannesburg, South Africa – South Africa, the continent most affected by COVID, is expected to receive its first batch of coronavirus vaccines on Monday.
Originally scheduled for the end of January, the first million injections of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine produced in India will be used to immunize healthcare workers over the next three months. The second batch of 500,000 jabs is expected to arrive later in February.
Despite criticism from opposition parties and medical experts that the vaccine procurement process has taken too long, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize called the arrival of vaccines from the Serum Institute of India a “massive achievement. of unprecedented proportions ”.
Once the shipment has undergone quality checks, which will take between 10 and 14 days, the country will begin its long-awaited three-phase vaccination campaign. Following the inoculation of frontline health workers, other high-risk groups such as the elderly, people with co-morbidities and essential workers such as minibus drivers, police and teachers will receive their vaccine. The third phase targets all people over the age of 18.
The first shipment of 1 million doses of #OxfordAstraZeneca vaccine @SerumInstIndia is on the way to @ortambo_int
The shipment left Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj International Airport today and will arrive in South Africa on February 1, 2021.# COVID-19[FEMALE[FEMININE pic.twitter.com/lTw1EtGi0d
– South African government (@GovernmentZA) January 31, 2021
The arrival of the jabs comes a month after the UK first rolled out the vaccine developed by the University of Oxford and pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, and around two months after the UK and US United have started using the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. .
Responding to accusations that the delay was caused by the South African government’s start to negotiations too late, the Deputy Director General of the National Department of Health, Dr Anban Pillay, told Al Jazeera: “We could not not get a vaccine without knowing it is effective and safe. and when it would be delivered. This information only became available in December for some vaccines. We had to wait until we had this information before making a financial commitment. “
Under its deal, South Africa pays $ 5.25 per injection, which is $ 2 more than what will cost when the same vaccine arrives under the deal that the African Union (AU) has. concluded for African countries.
Professor Barry Schoeb, who chairs the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on COVID-19, said South Africa has prioritized the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine because “it is the one that was immediately available”.
Authorities aim to vaccinate 40 million South Africans by the end of 2021, or 65% of the population of nearly 60 million. “But effectiveness will depend on a whole bunch of factors,” Mkhize acknowledged during a public online vaccine briefing last week, including uncertainty over whether South Africa will actually receive the drugs. doses ordered.
While he pledged that the government would do its best to vaccinate as many people as possible, “many other countries are currently not receiving the supplies they have ordered,” the minister warned.
According to official sources, 21 million shots of the Pfizer (12 million) and Johnson & Johnson (nine million) vaccines were obtained through collective programs such as the COVAX program supported by the World Health Organization and the AU , as well as bilateral agreements. with suppliers. Meanwhile, Mkhize told a Sunday newspaper that 20 million more shots had been ordered by Pfizer, bringing South Africa’s expected supply to more than 40 million doses.
“These vaccines are secure and are waiting for manufacturers to submit final agreements with details on delivery dates and exact amounts,” Mkhize told The Sunday Times.
South Africa is the African country most affected by the pandemic, with nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases and nearly 44,000 related deaths. In January, daily new infections peaked at more than 20,000, the vast majority of which could be attributed to a new strain identified last year.
The potent new variant 501Y.V2 is believed to be 50% more transmissible than previous variants, while some studies have shown it to be relatively more resistant to existing vaccines.
Whether the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is effective against him is currently under investigation, with results expected in the coming days.
– Department of Health: COVID-19 (@ COVID_19_ZA) January 30, 2021
Meanwhile, the government has launched a social media campaign – using hashtags such as #VacciNation and #ListenToTheExperts – to debunk myths and rumors about COVID-19 and vaccines that have circulated widely.
“We will make sure that communities have adequate information to remove doubts about vaccines,” Mkhize said.
The Ministry of Health is currently conducting a study to find out the level of information about vaccines among health workers, as some seem worried about being vaccinated.
“People are scared. They are talking about 5G, triple 6 and microchips, ”said a nurse working at a clinic near central Johannesburg. According to the nurse’s information, online training for nurses will begin on Monday.
“Healthcare workers have not been educated enough about the vaccine,” said Sibongiseni Delihlaso, of the Democratic Nursing Organization of South Africa.
“They are the ones who will lead this on the pitch. How are these people going to convince patients to get vaccinated if they are not convinced? “