South Africa Expands Vaccine Rollout as Virus Cases Surge

South Africa is expanding its coronavirus-inoculation program as the pace of vaccine deliveries accelerates, acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane said.

Health authorities received 1.5 million J&J vaccines over the past week, and are expecting a further 2.1 million Pfizer Inc. shots to be delivered next month, Kubayi-Ngubane said in a virtual briefing on Friday. The government will also open up registrations for people aged 50 and older and will begin inoculating that group from July 15, she said.

“With the anticipated flow of vaccines to come, we are now confident that we will be building towards that 300,000 daily mark target that the president has set for us,” Kubayi-Ngubane said.

South Africa vaccinated a record 115,000 people on Thursday amid a third wave of coronavirus cases that have been concentrated in the commercial hub of Gauteng province. The country recorded 16,078 new infections on Thursday.

The government fast-tracked plans to vaccinate the new age group after a low uptake from those over 60 years old, the minister said. Gauteng Premier David Makhura asked the government to allow those in the 50-59 age group to be inoculated because of their increased mobility, with the expectation that they may encourage people in more vulnerable age groups to get vaccinated.

Exponential Decline

“We are very worried that the demand from the 60+ age group is reducing exponentially,” Kubayi-Ngubane said. “We understand that this manifestation is a combination of high vaccine hesitancy in this group and difficultly accessing the technology to register, as well as the vaccination centres.”

The government has been criticized for the slow pace of its vaccine rollout, the main part of which only began last month. Of the 40 million people it estimates it needs to vaccinate to achieve herd immunity, just 2.55 million have received a dose of vaccine.

The opposition Economic Freedom Fighters party is holding a protest on Friday to demand that the health-products regulator immediately approve the use of Covid-19 vaccines from Russia and China. The regulator has said it’s currently evaluating the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines from China as well as Russia’s Sputnik V shot.

The South African Medical Research Council criticized EFF allegations that the regulator had disallowed the use of Sputnik V and Sinovac because it is controlled by western pharmaceutical companies. The party has also leveled physical threats against the regulator’s personnel, it said.

“We condemn such behavior and fully support the vital regulatory role that SAHPRA plays in ensuring that all medications and vaccines undergo rigorous examination to assess the safety, efficacy and quality of products prior to them being registered,” it said.

Gauteng, which includes the cities of Johannesburg and Pretoria, is expected to hit the peak of the third wave of infections in the first week of July, according to modeling prepared for the provincial government.

While an unexpected surge to a record 10,870 daily infections on Wednesday may portend a worse outcome, data to date show the province will likely have about 65,000 active cases from June 29 to July 9 before they begin to decline, a presentation by Bruce Mellado, a member of Makhura’s advisory committee, showed.

While the surge in infections in Gauteng is slowing, with a 44% increase last week compared with 74% two weeks earlier, the impact has led to calls for tighter curbs on movement and alcohol sales even as some experts say the government has left it too late. The province is home to one in four South Africans and more than 60% of daily new infections nationally. Gauteng accounts for 40% of the South African economy.

©2021 Bloomberg L.P.

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