South Africa says secures vaccines for at least 26 million people

Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning
·2-min read
An aircraft carrying South Africa's first COVID-19 vaccine doses arrives at OR Tambo airport in Johannesburg

By Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - South Africa, hardest hit by the coronavirus on the continent, has secured enough COVID-19 vaccines for at least 26 million people and knows where it will get the remaining does it needs, the health minister said on Friday.

Africa's most industrialised economy has recorded the most COVID-19 infections and deaths on the continent, at more than 1.4 million cases and more than 45,000 deaths to date.

It plans to start inoculations soon, after receiving its first million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) this week. It aims to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of its population, to reach herd immunity.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a parliamentary committee it would take roughly three months to complete the first phase of the vaccination plan focused on healthcare workers.

The next phase, which includes those aged over 60, those deemed essential workers and those with co-morbidities, could take six months.

"We don't expect this plan to be smooth in its implementation," Mkhize said, after some scientists and opposition politicians criticised the government for not procuring vaccines more swiftly.

"It's a new programme, it's a huge programme, to think that everything is going to be smooth according to the letter of the plan I think we would be misleading you."

South Africa expects to get another 500,000 doses from SII in the coming weeks, as well as 12 million from the COVAX facility co-led by the World Health Organization, 20 million from Pfizer and 9 million from Johnson & Johnson .

When calculating how many people's vaccines had been secured, Mkhize did not appear to include 12 million doses that South Africa could access under an African Union arrangement.

A health ministry presentation said the J&J vaccine would cost $10 per dose and that a condition of the deal was the establishment of a no-fault compensation system for adverse events.

It said Moderna had offered 200,000 doses of vaccine at $30-$42 a shot in the second quarter, with more available in the third quarter.

J&J's is a single-shot vaccine while the AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Moderna ones are double-shot.

South Africa has held talks with Chinese vaccine manufacturers Sinovac and Sinopharm, as well as Russia's Gamaleya Institute, Mkhize added.

(Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo, Chizu Nomiyama and Nick Macfie)