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S.Africa aims to vaccinate one million by end of March

South Africa is targeting an ambitious plan to vaccinate one million people against Covid-19 by the end of March after a late start to its inoculation campaign, the country’s health minister said Thursday.

So far around 32,000 healthcare workers have received vaccinations developed by US pharma giant Johnson & Johnson since February 17, when the rollout began with a first batch of 80,000 doses.

The country, which was slow to join in the global jostle for vaccines, hopes to take delivery of another 500,000 doses from Johnson & Johnson in the coming days.

Thereafter, a consignment of 600,000 doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine will follow.

“This will be able to get over 1.1 million people vaccinated between now and hopefully the end of March,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told lawmakers.

That will cover most of the country’s healthcare workers.

Africa’s hardest-hit nation by the pandemic suffered a setback after it decided against administering one million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca formula it received on February 1, citing concerns over whether it protected against a widespread virus variant that emerged in the country.

Most of the large supplies of vaccines are expected to start flowing in from April to June, the minister said, noting the government was banking on bilateral negotiations to fill its deficit of doses.

On Wednesday, the government announced plans to allocate $688 million for vaccines.

South Africa, the continent’s most industrialised economy, aims to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of 2021.

It has already committed to deals for nine million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, 12 million doses from the Covax facility and 20 million from Pfizer.

Mkhize said “a lot of work” was being done to acquire Russia’s Sputnik vaccine and Sinopharm from China.

Discussions are also ongoing for the purchase of jabs from US biotech firm Moderna, which said Wednesday it was ready to start test its new vaccine candidate aimed at the coronavirus variant identified in South Africa.

South Africa has recorded more than 1.5 million virus cases of which nearly 50,000 have been fatal.