JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa has started its mass vaccination drive with the goal of inoculating nearly 5 million citizens aged 60 and above by the end of June.
Shots of the Pfizer vaccine were given to South Africans in a few nursing homes and to some people aged 60 and older on Monday to start the campaign.
So far the country has inoculated just over 478,000 of its health care workers with Johnson & Johnson vaccines and it plans to give the shots to the remainder of its 1.2 million health workers by the end of this week.
According to the latest online registrations, more than 1.2 million citizens 60 and older and 945,000 health workers have completed online registrations to get vaccinated.
South Africa now has nearly 1 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, after receiving a delivery of 325,260 doses of the vaccine on Sunday night.
“The Pfizer vaccines are safe and work well, even against the variant that is dominant in this country,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Sunday night in a speech that was broadcast nationally.
By the end of June, the country expects to have received 4.5 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine and 2 million of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Mkhize said.
South Africa’s vaccination drive comes as the country is seeing a rise in cases and experts warn of a resurgence of the disease as the country approaches the colder months of the Southern Hemisphere’s winter.
South Africa’s 7-day rolling average of daily new cases has nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 2.07 new cases per 100,000 people on May 2 to 4.13 new cases per 100,000 people on May 16. The country’s death rate has also nearly doubled over the past two weeks from 0.06 deaths per 100,000 people on May 2 to 0.11 deaths per 100,000 people on May 16.
South Africa has been the country hardest hit by the pandemic in Africa with more than 1.6 million confirmed infections and more than 55,000 reported deaths.
The health department said it plans to vaccinate more than 7,700 senior citizens at 102 nursing homes by the end of the week, with a total 50,000 in those facilities to be vaccinated by the end of May.
South Africa’s rollout of the vaccine has faced serious delays, including the return of 1 million AstraZeneca doses that were found to provide only minimal protection against the COVID-19 variant dominant in the country.
It also temporarily halted giving the Johnson & Johnson vaccines to health care workers after the U.S. Food and Drug Administration flagged rare blood clots in some patients who had received the vaccine.
Mkhize has warned that those who have been vaccinated should continue to practice standard prevention measures like wearing masks and social distancing.
“The vaccine will protect you from getting severe COVID disease or dying from COVID. However, no vaccine works 100% and we also still do not know whether vaccination prevents transmission of the virus,” Mkhize said. “It is therefore still important to follow the standard COVID-19 safety precautions to protect yourself and those around you.”