The country has reported the most infections in Africa and has identified a new strain that may be more contagious.
South Africa will receive its first batch of coronavirus vaccines in January, the health minister said, as the continent’s worst-affected country battles a record number of infections.
“South Africa will receive one million doses in January and 500,000 doses in February,” Zweli Mkhize said in a statement Thursday.
South Africa is using the vaccine jointly made by researchers at the University of Oxford and biotech company AstraZeneca.
It is seen as a potential shift in the global fight against coronavirus, as it does not need to be stored at the ultra-low temperatures required by the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna alternatives.
This could mean better access in less wealthy countries. Kenya’s health minister also said on Wednesday that the country is expected to start receiving 24 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine next month.
South Africa will prioritize vaccinating its 1.25 million healthcare workers, Mkhize said.
Afterwards, the government hopes to be able to kick out about two-thirds of the population of around 60 million by the end of the year.
Mkhize called for patience as his ministry negotiates directly with vaccine suppliers, following criticism of the pace of proceedings from some unions and health professionals.
The ministry also announced Thursday that vaccine negotiations with Johnson & Johnson are at an advanced stage and that “developments will be announced shortly.”
The country of 60 million people has reported by far the most cases of coronavirus in Africa, with more than 1.1 million confirmed infections, including 31,368 deaths, or more than 30% of all cases on the continent of 1.3 billion.
Welcoming the start of what he called a “historic process”, Mkhize said the ministry would do everything possible “to ensure the effective and efficient deployment of the vaccine for our health workers”.
“We urge the public to be patient with us as we continue to engage manufacturers. Our commitment remains to save and protect the lives of our people, ”he added.
The first wave of the virus had typically seen daily confirmed cases in South Africa hover around 12,000 in July.
But August saw the emergence in the Eastern Cape region of the country of a new, perhaps more contagious, variant. The strain has since been detected in other countries around the world.
South Africa announced record levels of 21,832 new confirmed cases and 844 deaths on Wednesday evening.
Some hospitals across the country are already reporting they are at full capacity.