Amid COVID-19 surge, S.Africa health minister aims to vaccinate for herd immunity

PUBLISHED: Thu, 07 Jan 2021 09:26:58 GMT

JOHANNESBURG, Jan 7 (Reuters) – South Africa’s health minister on Thursday detailed plans to vaccinate 40 million people or two-thirds of its population against COVID-19 in order to achieve herd immunity, as a mutant variant drove daily new cases above 21,000 for the first time.

A more contagious coronavirus mutant, first found on South Africa’s east coast late last year, is driving a second wave of infections across Africa’s most industrialised nation, pushing its total to 1.15 million, a third of all the continent’s cases.

This week, deaths in South Africa surpassed 30,000, and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said both private and public hospitals were struggling to manage to a growing influx of patients.

“Deaths and admissions are already higher than what we have ever experienced before,” he said in virtual presentation to parliament.

Mkhize proposed vaccinating the 40 million over a year — without saying when they would start — a goal he admitted was ambitious given the country’s capacity in terms of staff and facilities. He reiterated that the country aimed get its first vaccines in February.

Priority would go to 1.25 million health workers, then a second phase would target other essential workers, people over 60 and people with co-morbidities, 8 million in total, then the rest would be vaccinated in a third phase, he said.

Mkhize laid out a model for how vaccine procurement might work, based on the assumption that 70% would come from AstraZeneca, whose shots were the cheapest at 54 rand ($3.57) per dose, while Johnson and Johnson would get a 20% allocation, and Pfizer and Moderna 5% each.

South Africa has yet to sign a deal with any of them. It is participating in the COVAX initiative co-led by the World Health Organization, but that covers just 10% of its populace.

($1 = 15.1387 rand) (Reporting by Tim Cocks; Editing by Toby Chopra)

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