After delays, South Africa announces mass vaccination drive

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Sinkameng Moilwa, a professional nurse in a dental department, receives a dose of Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine from a health staff member during a vaccination day for healthcare workers at a vaccination centre at Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital in Johannesburg, South Africa, Friday, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)

JOHANNESBURG – After a false start and an unconventional test run, South Africa on Friday announced the launch of its mass vaccination campaign against COVID-19 with a goal of inoculating more than 40 million people by February next year.

“We have now secured adequate vaccines and can move ahead with confidence with our mass rollout campaign,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said during a presentation to civic groups and others.

This week South Africa finalized the purchases of 51 million doses: 31 million of Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine and 20 million of Pfizer’s two-dose vaccine, Mkhize said.

South Africa's vaccination campaign has been moving slowly but it will accelerate with deliveries this month of 3 million J&J doses and 6 million Pfizer doses, Mkhize said. Further deliveries will cover the bulk of the government's aim to inoculate 67% of the country's 60 million people by early 2022.

Criticism has mounted, from leading health professionals and ordinary South Africans, over the slow purchase of vaccines.

South Africa has by far the largest burden of COVID-19 in Africa. With more than 1.5 million confirmed cases, including 53,173 deaths, the country accounts for more than 30% of the 4.3 million cases reported by the continent's 54 countries. South Africa accounts for nearly half the continent's deaths from the disease.

Health experts warn that South Africa could face a resurgence of infections following the Easter holiday and as cold weather approaches in the Southern Hemisphere's winter months.

The country’s 1.2 million health care workers are being vaccinated in the first phase.