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South Africa launches large-scale vaccination rollout

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A man receives a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, as South Africa rolls out the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination to the elderly at the Munsieville Care for the Aged Centre outside Johannesburg, South Africa May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

After much delay and on the cusp of a third wave, South Africa on Monday launched a large-scale Covid immunisation campaign, targeting around five million people aged over 60 by the end of June.

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Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said late Sunday that the target would be achieved if the anticipated orders of vaccines were delivered on time.

“We will begin to vaccinate citizens 60 years and older, who are the most vulnerable for becoming ill or dying of Covid-19,” the minister said during a webinar.

Despite being Africa’s worst virus-hit country, registering more than 1.6 million cases, including 55,210 deaths, South Africa has vaccinated less than 480,000 people or just one percent of its population, mainly health workers in a mass clinical trial operation.

The immunisation of health workers started in February when it became the first country worldwide to administer inoculations by US pharma group Johnson & Johnson.

The government, which has been widely criticised for the sluggish immunisation campaign, says it has ordered enough doses to vaccinate at least 45 million of the estimated 59 million population.

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“By the end of June we expect to have received 4.5 million doses of Pfizer and two million doses from Johnson & Johnson,” Mkhize said.

South Africa earlier this year purchased AstraZeneca vaccines and then sold them to other African countries following fears that they would be less effective.

Then, after it started inoculating health workers, using the Johnson & Johnson jabs, it had to pause for two weeks mid-April to vet risks over blood clots that had been reported in the US.

After a brief lull, infections have climbed by as much as 46 percent between the last week of April and the first week of May.

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