South Africa gets more vaccines from US amid ongoing surge

Health

A patient receives a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a pop-up vaccination centre, at the Bare taxi rank in Soweto, South Africa, Friday, Aug. 20, 2021. Faced with slowing numbers of people getting COVID-19 jabs, South Africa has opened eligibility to all adults to step up the volume of inoculations as it battles a surge in the disease driven by the delta variant. (AP Photo/Denis Farrell)

JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa will this weekend receive 2.2 million Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine doses donated by the United States to add to the 5.6 million doses it received from the U.S. in July.

The new doses come as the country continues to battle an extended resurgence of COVID-19 infections and is racing to vaccinate 67% of its 60 million people by February next year.

They are expected to be delivered on Saturday, South African Health Minister Joe Phaahla said during a weekly COVID-19 briefing.

South Africa has already purchased 40 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. The country has also bought 31 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which are being delivered in large shipments from overseas and from a manufacturing plant in South Africa.

South Africa has fully vaccinated more than 5.4 million people with the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine and the two-dose Pfizer vaccine and has administered more than 11 million vaccine doses, Phaahla said Friday.

South Africa’s vaccination drive picked up pace last week after it increased eligibility to all aged over 18 years, ensuring that all adults can now get the shots.

“The response of our young people has been overwhelming. More than 560,000 … registered for vaccination on the first day, and we vaccinated 81,000 of them on the first day,” said Phaahla.

“The weekend numbers have gone much higher and our average daily vaccinations have gone above 240,000, and this number was sustained,” said Phaahla.

Over the past two days, South Africa has given jabs to more than 260,000 people each day, bringing it closer to its target of 300,000 daily vaccinations, Phaahla said.

South Africa’s current surge driven by the delta variant has been more prolonged than the sharp spikes and falls seen in the first two waves, he said. It is urgent for the country to vaccinate as many people as possible before the next surge, which could be in November, Phaahla added.

In the last 24 hours, South Africa has recorded more than 12,700 new infections, including 357 deaths. Overall, nearly 81,000 people have died, according to official figures. But the actual number of deaths from COVID-19 is estimated to be nearly three times that amount, based on statistics showing the country’s average death rates.

South Africa has by far the largest reported burden of COVID-19 in Africa. Its 2.7 million confirmed cases are about 35% of the 7.6 million reported by all Africa’s 54 countries, even though South Africa’s population accounts for just 4.6% of the continent’s 1.3 billion people.

Health experts say South Africa’s relatively good statistical reporting and its volume of international travelers are likely contributing factors.

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