South Africa’s vaccine campaign officially began in February as the country became the first in the world to roll out the Johnson & Johnson jab.
While the government aims to vaccinate at least 67% of its population (roughly 40 million people) this year in order to reach herd immunity, vaccinology expert Prof. Shabir Madhi says that this goal will likely not be reached.
“We need to recalibrate… our understanding of what we can actually achieve with COVID-19 vaccines,” Madhi said at a panel discussion earlier this week. “The notion of getting to herd immunity… at least with this first generation of COVID-19 vaccines, is extremely slim.”
Madhi, who is the lead investigator on the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine trial in South Africa, explained that the variant of COVID-19 discovered in South Africa late last year, as well as an impending third wave of infection, could seriously interrupt the country's vaccine plans for the rest of this year.
The country has already had its share of hindrances on its way to rolling out the vaccine this year, including a delay in its initial roll out after it was found that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines — the first doses to land in South Africa — only offered limited protection against the country’s new variant.
South Africa received 80,000 vaccines from Johnson & Johnson in February and is expected to receive more in April and May. The country has secured 11 million vaccines from Johnson & Johnson as well as 20 million doses of a vaccine developed by Pfizer.
It is also expecting 12 million doses from the COVAX Facility and an undetermined amount from the African Union’s acquisition efforts.
President Cyril Ramaphosa, who was among the first to be vaccinated last month alongside some of the country’s health care workers, said in a national address on Sunday that the start of the vaccine roll out had "gone extremely well" and that daily infections had slowed enough to lift almost all of the country’s restrictions.