South Africa Begins Vaccine Rollout After J&J Shots Arrive

South Africa began administering its first coronavirus vaccines on Wednesday, dispensing Johnson & Johnson shots to health workers and top politicians just hours after they arrived in the country from Belgium.

President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize were among those to be inoculated at a hospital in the Cape Town suburb of Khayelitsha. Their inclusion among the first group of people to be vaccinated was aimed at reassuring the public that they are safe, after surveys showed widespread hesitancy about receiving them.

“This is really a milestone for our country,” Ramaphosa said after receiving his shot. “We are going to be rolling out this vaccine throughout our country. I think it is going to be flawless.”

South Africa Begins Vaccine Rollout After J&J Shots Arrive

The government had previously faced criticism from scientists and labor unions for being slow off the mark to procure vaccines, after it lagged 79 countries in beginning their rollout. The country has secured enough doses for all those that need them, according to Mkhize.

The process of vaccinating two-thirds of the population of 60 million in order to achieve herd immunity is expected to take 12 to 18 months, said Stavros Nicolaou, head of the health-work unit at lobbying group Business for South Africa.

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“Phase one is critically important,” Nicolaou, who also heads strategic trade at Aspen Pharmacare Holdings Ltd., said in an interview with radio 702 on Wednesday. “We need to vaccinate 1.3 million health workers before we get to the third wave.”

South Africa has recorded more than 1.49 million coronavirus cases since March last year, the most on the continent. A total of 48,313 people who were diagnosed with the disease have died, according to the Health Ministry.

South Africa switched to using J&J shots for its initial inoculations, after a small study showed shots developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford had little impact on mild infections caused by a variant of the virus first identified in the country last year. The J&J vaccines are being issued as part of a study, allowing normal regulatory approvals to be bypassed.

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