South Africa welcomes first delivery of COVID-19 vaccines

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa gave a hero’s welcome on Monday to the delivery of its first COVID-19 vaccines — one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa greeted the crates of vaccine that arrived at Johannesburg’s OR Tambo International Airport. The shipment will be followed up later this month by another 500,000 doses.

The vaccine will be effective in preventing severe disease and death from the variant that has become dominant in South Africa, a vaccine expert said.

The AstraZeneca vaccines will be used to inoculate South Africa’s frontline health workers, which will kick-start the country’s vaccination campaign. The first jabs are expected to be administered in mid-February, after the vaccines are tested and approved by South Africa’s drug regulatory authorities.

“The arrival of the first vaccines is excellent news and a step in the right direction for South Africa,” Director of the Africa Health Research Institute Professor Willem Hanekom told the Associated Press (AP).

A man walking past a coronavirus-themed mural promoting the use of face mask in public place, in Sebokeng, Vereeniging. PHOTO: AP

Although the variant that has become dominant in South Africa is expected to reduce the efficacy of the AstraZeneca and other vaccines, Hanekom said initial trials indicate that all the various inoculations will still offer good protection.

“The most important point that should be emphasised is that while the vaccines offer variable efficacy in preventing infection with COVID-19, so far severe disease and death are prevented by all the vaccines,” he said from his office in Durban.

“So it doesn’t matter the level of efficacy, the vaccines all seem to work pretty well against severe disease and death, even against this new variant, it appears,” Hanekom said.

South Africa’s government intends to inoculate 40 million people, representing 67 per cent of the country’s population of 60 million, by the end of the year.