South Africa to open up COVID-19 vaccinations to 18-35 year olds from Friday

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FILE PHOTO: COVID-19 vaccination at the Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital, in Soweto

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - South Africa will open up COVID-19 vaccinations to those aged between 18 and 35 years old from Friday, the government said in a statement, as it tries to ramp up its immunisation drive.

The country has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent, but it has so far only fully vaccinated less than 8% of its population of 60 million.

"As part of increasing the vaccination roll-out programme, Cabinet approved the vaccination of persons aged between 18 years and 35 years from 20 August," the government said on Thursday.

South Africa's vaccination campaign started slowly due to a mix of bureaucratic failures, bad luck and onerous negotiations with pharmaceutical companies. The first vaccine doses were given to healthcare workers in a research study from mid-February, before the elderly were vaccinated from mid-May.

From Aug. 1 those aged 35 years and over became eligible to receive a vaccine.

The government has set a target of reaching at least 300,000 COVID-19 vaccinations a day by the end of this month, but in the latest 24-hour period it managed just 195,000, according to a health department website.

It aims to have given at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine to 35 million of its people by December, compared to roughly 7.7 million now.

South Africa is using the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines. It has signed bilateral deals with the two U.S. pharmaceutical companies and is also receiving some Pfizer shots via global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX.

(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

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