South Africa on Saturday received its second consignment of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, the health minister said, as the continent’s hardest-hit country scrambles to shore up its inoculation drive.
The country of almost 59 million people, which has seen nearly 50,000 succumb to the virus, has been widely criticised for a slow procurement of vaccines and lack of strategy.
Health minister Zweli Mkhize tweeted that the second tranche of Johnson & Johnson vaccines had touched down at OR Tambo International airport.
“It comes as the majority of initial doses received two weeks ago have been administered to healthcare workers,” Mkhize tweeted as the precious cargo landed in the financial capital Johannesburg.
According to the ministry over 63,600 healthcare workers have been vaccinated since inoculations began 11 days ago.
Transported by the national carrier, South African Airways, some 80,000 doses arrived from Brussels, according to local media.
The ministry said it was procuring vaccines in small tranches “to minimise stock standing still in Belgium or here in South Africa.”
“We are opting for smaller, more frequent batches to South Africa,” ministry spokesman Popo Maja told AFP, adding that it expects to have secured at least 200,000 doses by the end of March.
Authorities plan to continue immunising healthcare workers under the current first phase.
The elderly, teachers, miners, police officers, soldiers, civil servants and people older than 18 with co-morbidities will be vaccinated in the next phase of the three-phase rollout campaign.
President Cyril Ramaphosa on Friday called for journalists to also be considered for inoculation along with these other essential service providers.
Unlike the AstraZeneca vaccines, which South Africa first procured but later opted not to use, Johnson & Johnson’s shots are believed to be effective against the country’s 501Y.V2 variant.
South Africa has indicated it will source a variety of vaccines from multiple manufacturers as it continues its inoculation drive, with the threat of a deadly third wave feared as it heads towards the winter season from May.
It plans to inoculate 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population, to achieve some level of herd immunity.