South Africa to get firm date on delivery of vaccine by early January, experts say

Picture of a vaccine./Getty Images

South Africa will have a firm date on when it will get COVID-19 vaccine in the first few days of January, a senior health ministry official told a television news channel on Thursday.

South Africa is one of around 200 countries who have joined the pooled procurement for the coronavirus vaccine, commonly known as COVAX, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO).

The country, which accounts for more than a third of Africa’s COVID-19 cases, has been battling a surge in coronavirus cases since the end of November, as a new variant called 501.V2 has been infecting even the younger population, unlike the first wave, the government has said.

“The first date (of vaccine delivery) has not been communicated, but by early January they would have a firm date,” Anban Pillay, deputy director general of the National Department of Health, told the news channel SABC.

South Africa expects to get the COVAX vaccine by the second quarter of 2021, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Monday. The country’s Solidarity Fund has made the initial payment of 283 million rand ($19.34 million) to the facility, he said.

The COVAX alliance said on December 18 the first deliveries were due in early 2021, without giving a specific date.

South Africa reported a record 17,710 daily increase in coronavirus infections on Wednesday, surpassing the previous high of about 14,500 set several days ago, owing to the new variant, which is said to be more contagious.

Daily deaths are averaging close to 500.

The vaccine under COVAX can treat only 10 percent of the population in the country of 58 million people, Professor Barry Schoub, chairperson of the ministerial advisory committee on coronavirus vaccine development, told the news channel.

The distribution of the vaccine will happen over a few tranches and it will take months to vaccinate 10 percent of the population, he said.

The first priority will be to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers, followed by elderly people and people who are in institutions such as jails, Schoub said.

The government is also talking to other manufacturers separately to source vaccine for rest of the population, Pillay added.