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World

S.Africa vaccine plan raises eyebrows ahead of launch

  • Around 1.2 million health professionals will be first in line for the shot, followed by 16 million elderly and vulnerable citizens, as well as frontline workers.
13 Jan 2021

JOHANNESBURG: South Africa's government has started outlining its Covid-19 inoculation plans, despite not yet receiving a single vaccine dose, as it faces criticism over unrealistic targets and a lack of clarity.

The continent's worst-hit country is placing high hopes on vaccines as the authorities grapple with an unprecedented surge in cases fuelled by a new virus variant.

The government is aiming to vaccinate two thirds of its population -- around 40 million out of nearly 60 million people -- in order to achieve herd immunity by the end of 2021.

One million doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine are expected this month -- the first shipment of 20 million secured doses to be mainly delivered in the first-half of the year.

"This will be the largest and most complex logistical undertaking in our country's history," President Cyril Ramaphosa said during an address to the nation on Monday.

After weeks of public outcry over a lack of planning, Ramaphosa finally laid out a three-phase vaccination blueprint for the year ahead.

Around 1.2 million health professionals will be first in line for the shot, followed by 16 million elderly and vulnerable citizens, as well as frontline workers.

A remaining 22.5 million adults are then scheduled to be vaccinated.

But details on timing, suppliers and logistics remain thin, raising doubts over the plan's feasibility.

"That would mean we would have to vaccinate 150,000 people every day for the next 12 months," said Angelique Coetzee, head of the South African Medical Association.

"It's unrealistic," she added. "We do not have that capacity. Who is going to vaccinate all these people?"

Ramaphosa assured that negotiations with vaccine manufacturers would be centralised and transparent.

Faith in the government has been rocked by a string of coronavirus-linked corruption scandals last year involving high-profile politicians currently under investigation.

"Vultures feast on Covid-19 misery," blasted a local newspaper in July, citing allegedly corrupt deals to purchase personal protective equipment (PPE).

Ramaphosa said South Africa would secure its vaccines through the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility, the African Union and "direct engagements" with suppliers.

The first 1.5 million AstraZeneca vaccines, expected in January and February, will be manufactured by the Serum Institute of India.

COVAX is expected to provide doses for 10 percent of the population between April and June.

Negotiations are also underway with pharmaceutical companies Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, as well as with Chinese and Russian manufacturers.

Frustrated by the delay, the main opposition Democratic Alliance (DA) party has accused the government of sidelining "reputable" manufacturers in favour of Chinese and Russian suppliers, "hoping to score kickbacks".

"We have no concrete plan for the acquisition of this vaccine," the DA said in a statement this week.

"Where are the 20 million doses... being sourced from?"