South Africa Launches Coronavirus Vaccine Campaign

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Specimens of premixed saline solution designed to mimic the a COVID-19 vaccine are seen on the top of a prototype of Cryo-Vacc, an ultra-cold biologic transport unit, in Dunkeld West, Johannesburg, on February 17, 2021. The unit uses a helium-based refrigerating technology, has been created to safely transport COVID-19 vaccines doses (6000 per unit) as well as other vaccines, especially in rural area of the Africa continent as it maintains the temperature inside (8 to -150 C) constant for three days without electricity. LUCA SOLA / AFP

President Cyril Ramaphosa was among the first to be inoculated Wednesday as South Africa launched its coronavirus vaccine campaign using Johnson & Johnson jabs, after the rollout was delayed.

South Africa earlier this month received a million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca formula but halted administering it over concerns it would not protect against a widespread variant.

A nurse who works in a maternity ward at a hospital in Khayelitsha township in Cape Town was the first to be immunised, hours after the first batch of 80,000 doses landed in the country late Tuesday.

She looked relaxed as she received the jab, which was broadcast on live television.

After five healthcare workers got their jabs, it was Ramaphosa’s turn.

Before taking off his jacket and rolling up his white shirt’s long sleeves for the injection, he asked the nurse who was administering the jab if there would be any side effects.

“This day represents a real milestone for us as South Africans that finally the vaccines are here and they are being administered,” he said as he left the hospital to go to parliament.

He was upbeat that the rollout will be “flawless”.

“This is a new era for us,” he said.

South Africa late Tuesday took delivery of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines at an event that was closed to the press, in contrast to the fanfare two weeks ago when it received the Oxford/AstraZeneca jabs.

The new vaccines, only recently approved by the national health authorities, were distributed to 32 vaccination centres overnight.

The stock is part of a consignment of nine million doses that South Africa secured from the American pharmaceutical giant.

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The first doses will target healthcare workers as part of a study by the country’s medical research authority.

Another 420,000 doses will be delivered over the next four weeks.

The country — the worst affected by the virus in Africa — suspended its vaccine rollout after a study found the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven to be 57 effective against the variant, identified as 501Y.V2.

South Africa has recorded nearly 1.5 million coronavirus infections, including more than 48,000 deaths.

It is emerging from a second wave of infections — fuelled by the new strain of the virus — and has seen the number of daily new cases drop from highs of 20,000 in early January to slightly over 1,000 this week.

Khayelitsha, a sprawling township and home to at least 400,000 people — became a hotspot during the first wave when it was identified as worst hit in the country.

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