President Cyril Ramaphosa on Thursday vowed that South Africa will beat the coronavirus pandemic despite a delay in its immunisation roll-out after the country switched vaccines at the 11th hour.
The continent’s worst-hit country halted the start of its immunisation campaign after a study showed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine it had received failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a new, widespread variant discovered in South Africa.
The government has now turned to the Johnson & Johnson formula, of which it has secured nine million doses.
“The first batch of 80,000 doses will arrive in the country next week,” Ramaphosa said in an annual state-of-the-nation address delivered in parliament.
Another 420,000 doses will be delivered over the next four weeks.
The health ministry announced on Sunday night that the country would not administer the AstraZeneca shots — nearly a week after it had taken delivery of a million doses.
The government is now considering trading its AstraZeneca stockpile to other countries not affected by the new variant.
South Africa has also secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Ramaphosa said, with deliveries expected to commence at the end of March.
Ramaphosa said the government had also secured 22 million other doses under the World Health Organization-backed vaccine pooling scheme Covax.
Before delivering his speech to a small number of lawmakers in the National Assembly, Ramaphosa lit a white candle in remembrance of the more 46,000 people that have died from Covid-19, out of the nearly 1.5 million that have contracted the virus.
“This year, we must do everything in our means to contain and overcome this pandemic,” he vowed.
Visibly exhausted, Ramaphosa opened his speech invoking the memory of the country’s anti-apartheid leader and first black president Nelson Mandela, who was released from 27 years in prison 31 years to the day.
He said Mandela stepped out of prison “a free person, a living embodiment of the resilience and courage of the South African people”.