By Jean Damascene Hakuzimana
Eighty thousand doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine arrived in South Africa on Tuesday, February 16, and one day later South Africa started vaccinating health care workers in Cape Town, bringing hope to the African country most ravaged by COVID-19. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa touted the arrival of the vaccine as a milestone in the fight against the pandemic.
In an effort to counter massive misinformation surrounding the vaccine, President Ramaphosa, Health Minister Mkhize, and Deputy Health Minister Phaahla were among those to receive the first doses. “Take this up, so that we can all be safe, and we can all be healthy,” President Ramaphosa urged his fellow South Africans. South Africa is the first country to adminster the Johnson and Johnson vaccine.
The economic giant has been severely hit by COVID19, with more than 48,000 deaths from the virus, and recent mutations making the country even more vulnerable. However, Aljazeera reports that vaccines developed by Johnson and Johnson (57% efficacy) and Novavax (50% efficacy) have proven to be effective against the variant.
South Africa has secured nine million doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine after halting deals with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, which was found to be less effective in relation to the new variant. The country hopes to immunize at least 67% (40 million) of its population by the end of the year, and has secured 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNtech vaccine to help it do so.
Few other countries on the African Continent have such ambitious vaccination plans. Instead, they must wait for COVAX – an international partnership designed to guarantee equitable access to vaccines for poorer countries – to announce distribution plans.
Rwanda started its vaccination program on February 14, according to Reuters. The day after, President Emerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe took to twitter to announce the arrival of 200,000 doses of vaccines developed by the Chinese national pharmaceutical company Sinopharm. Zimbabwe said that it had set aside $100 million for vaccine procurement. Algeria, Morocco, Mauritius, and Egypt have also started to vaccinate their citizens.
While heavyweight countries are striking bilateral deals with vaccine manufacturers, the World Health Organization warns that these deals could make the COVID-19 vaccine inaccessible and unaffordable to poor countries in Africa. The Independent reports that Dr Matshidiso Moeti, Regional Director for Africa at the World Health Organization, cautioned that the pandemic will be ended by a “We-First instead of Me-First ” approach. The COVAX program plans to send 1.3 billion COVID-19 vaccine doses to 92 lower income economies by the end of 2021.
Some countries have shown no interest in setting up vaccine programs. Tanzania’s president John Magufuli has refused COVID-19 vaccines. Meanwhile, Voice of America reports that Seif Sharif Hamad, the vice president of Tanzania’s Zanzibar Island, died on February 17 after weeks battling COVID-19.