South Africa kicked off its COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Wednesday and struggled to tame a more infectious variant of the coronavirus by introducing the Johnson & Johnson shot for the first time outside of a clinical trial.
South African authorities have recorded nearly half of COVID-19 deaths across Africa and over a third of confirmed infections on the continent, but have lagged more affluent Western countries in introducing mass vaccination programs.
The government plans to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population in Africa’s most industrialized economy, in order to achieve some level of herd immunity.
“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown to be safe and effective in extensive studies and will protect our healthcare workers from disease and death from COVID-19,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a statement.
The J&J shot is being used for the first time outside of a large clinical trial as part of a research study for up to 500,000 healthcare workers. J&J has submitted data to the South African Medicines Agency SAHPRA to ensure registration for a major roll-out.
Nurse Zoliswa Gidi-Dyosi was the first to be vaccinated at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town, followed by a doctor, a member of the hospital’s cleaning staff and an administrator, the government said.
Ramaphosa and Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize were vaccinated soon after.
Along with Rwanda, Morocco and Egypt, South Africa is one of the first nations on the continent to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
AstraZeneca Shot Shelved
The Ramaphosa government was under pressure to get the first shots in the arms quickly after suspending AstraZeneca’s vaccine rollout earlier this month.
The decision to suspend use of the AstraZeneca sting was made after preliminary experimental data showed that it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate disease over the country’s predominant variant 501Y.V2. The exposure has deepened the skepticism of some South Africans about COVID-19 vaccines.
Ramaphosa said earlier Wednesday that 80,000 J&J doses would be prepared for distribution across the country and that he would be vaccinated on the first day of the program to demonstrate his government’s confidence in the J&J vaccine.
He said most vaccination centers are ready to start vaccinations on Wednesday.
The 501Y.V2 virus variant, first identified by South African genome scientists late last year, has alarmed health professionals because it may evade the immune response provoked by previous exposure to the coronavirus or vaccines.
The government has announced it will sell or swap its AstraZeneca cans for shots of another vaccine.
AstraZeneca believes its vaccine will protect against severe COVID-19 and that it has started adapting it to the 501Y.V2 variant.
(Except for the headline, this story was not edited by GossipMantri staff and published from a syndicated feed.)