South Africa to give first COVID-19 vaccine doses to president, health workers

President Cyril Ramaphosa during preparations for his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) in the National Assembly in Parliament, Cape Town on Thursday 11 February 2021. This will be the first virtually held SONA due to Covid-19 restrictions. (Photo: GCIS / Elmond Jiyane)

CAPE TOWN, Feb 17 (Reuters) - South Africa will administer its first COVID-19 vaccine on Wednesday, with President Cyril Ramaphosa to get the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) shot alongside health workers.

* J&J vaccine being rolled out in research study

* Ramaphosa to get vaccinated in Cape Town hospital

* Comes after AstraZeneca rollout put on hold

* S.Africa records most cases, deaths on continent (Adds quote, detail, context)

By Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning

The first shot will be given at Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town this afternoon, the government said.

Ramaphosa said in a statement that 80,000 J&J doses were being prepared for distribution across the country and that he would be inoculated to demonstrate his government’s confidence in the vaccine.

The J&J vaccine is being rolled out initially as a research study to further evaluate it in the field, with up to 500,000 health workers set to be immunised.

Ramaphosa said most vaccination centres would be ready to begin the country’s immunisation programme on Wednesday.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been shown in extensive trials to be safe and efficacious and will protect our health care workers from illness and death from COVID-19,” he said.

South Africa switched to the one-shot J&J vaccine after pausing the rollout of AstraZeneca’s two-dose vaccine this month.

Preliminary trial data showed the AstraZeneca shot developed in partnership with the University of Oxford offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the country’s dominant coronavirus variant.

The decision to suspend the AstraZeneca rollout has added to scepticism among some South Africans about COVID-19 vaccines.

The government says it could sell or swap its AstraZeneca doses.

South Africa has recorded about 1.5 million coronavirus infections and over 48,000 deaths, the most on the African continent. The government had initially planned to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population, to achieve some level of herd immunity, but it is not clear whether that target still stands.

Since late last year, South Africa has been battling a more infectious virus variant called 501Y.V2 that has alarmed health experts for its ability to potentially evade the immune response generated by prior exposure to the coronavirus or vaccines.

AstraZeneca says it believes its vaccine protects against severe COVID-19 and that it has started adapting it against the 501Y.V2 variant. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf in Cape Town and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Christian Schmollinger)

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]


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