South African Health Minister, Dr. Zweli Mkhize, has announced that the country aims to secure COVID-19 vaccines by end of February 2021. This follows after a newly discovered COVID-19 strain caused an unprecedented rise in infections in December of last year. According to EWN, Mkhize revealed that government is in the middle of negotiations with international pharmaceutical companies. Mkhize described the vaccine rollout strategy will target four group populations that the health ministry has determined a priority, this according to Business Insider SA.
Healthcare workers will reportedly be the first group to receive the vaccine, followed by high risk groups specifically those who are HIV-positive or people over the age of 60. People that are in confined areas with large congregations such as prisons and hospice. Additionally, tourism sector employees and educational workers will be prioritised. The last group are those that qualify as essential workers including the police, miners, banking sector personnel and essential municipal employees.
In a TimesLIVE report, Mkhize stated that in a midst of a global rush for a COVID-19 vaccine, cost, access, ease of use and storage, are admittedly determining factors. This has reportedly resulted in bilateral negotiations with potential vaccines suppliers including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna and Cipla. Mkhize revealed that some countries had allegedly stocked vaccines for over five times the requirement for their population. The actions of these first-world countries mean that South Africa will then struggle to obtain COVID-19 vaccines within the nation’s desired time frame. The health minister did not hold back in calling out the “well off” countries.
According to EWN, the health ministry has entered into the COVAX vaccine distribution in an initiative led by the World Health Organisation but this will only cover 10 percent of the South African population. Mkhize stated that there are talks underway with political partners from BRICS, specifically Russia and China. Mkhize also reportedly stated that the aim is to vaccinate 67 percent of South Africa’s population by the end of the year.
South Africa currently sits on over one million COVID-19 cases and 29 000 deaths. The country went back to a level-three lock down mid-December following a rise in infection.