South Africa vaccine rollout seen slower after Astra setback

A top coronavirus adviser to South Africa’s government expects a slower vaccine rollout than what has been officially mapped out.

The start of the program was delayed this month after studies showed AstraZeneca Plc’s shot, the first to arrive in South Africa, provided little protection against mild forms of the disease caused by a variant of the virus identified late last year.

The government is targeting inoculating about 67% of South Africa’s population this year in a phased program that aims to achieve herd immunity. That time-line may be too ambitious, said Salim Abdool Karim, who co-chairs the health minister’s ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19.

Instead, South Africa should aim to complete the first two phases, which would cover about 43% of almost 40 million people it plans to vaccinate this year, he said in an interview.

“If we can do that by the end of this year, and it’s a tall order, that will change the face of the epidemic in this country,” Karim said. “I would view that as an appropriate target.”

South Africa’s estimated 1.3 million frontline health workers fall under phase 1, with the first shots given Wednesday. Essential workers, older people and anyone above the age of 18 years living with co-morbidities or in congregate settings, like prisons and care homes, will be vaccinated in phase 2.

The final phase targets an estimated 22.5 million adults over the age of 18.

The nation has recorded more than 1.49 million coronavirus cases since March last year, the most on the continent. A total of 48,708 people who were diagnosed with the disease have died, according to the Health Ministry.

The ministry and the government spokeswoman Phumla Williams didn’t answer calls or respond to emailed requests for comment.


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South Africa vaccine rollout seen slower after Astra setback