JOHANNESBURG (AP) — South Africa took the first step in its mass vaccination campaign on Friday by starting online registrations for the elderly to receive shots beginning next month.
People aged 60 years and older will be vaccinated first as they are among those at highest risk of being hospitalized or dying from COVID-19.
South Africa’s inoculation drive is dependent upon millions of doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine arriving in the country within weeks.
So far South Africa has vaccinated only 290,000 of its 1.2 million health care workers, using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. But earlier this week the government announced it would pause vaccinating its health workers following a report by the U.S Food and Drug and Administration after preliminary reports showed rare blood clots in 6 people among the nearly 7 million who received the J&J vaccine in the U.S.
However, no reports of blood clots have been recorded in South Africa, which is administering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson jab as part of a research study because the vaccine is yet to be approved for general use in the country. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said he expects South African experts to quickly resolve the questions over the J&J vaccine so that its use can resume here.
The beginning of the online registrations is a significant point for the country’s rollout program, said Mkhize.
Those in South Africa without access to the internet will be registered and inoculated at various vaccination centers around the country, he said.
He said there will be no difference between public and private health care users.
“The quality of services will be the same for all of us and the system will assign a vaccination site closest to our homes or where we work, not based on whether a particular site is a public or private facility,” said Mkhize.
Solly Masombuka, a 62-year-old Johannesburg resident, said he was looking forward to being vaccinated and would register on the system.
“My daughter is a nurse and she used the online system to register when they opened it up for health workers, so she will help to get me registered for mine,” he said.
“I am looking forward to getting vaccinated, but it is still early because we will only start getting vaccinated probably a month from now,” said Masombuka.
South Africa has been the hardest hit by the pandemic in Africa with more than 1.5 million confirmed cases and more than 53,000 deaths, representing more than 30% of the reported cases and nearly 50% of the official deaths of all the continent’s 54 countries.
South Africa has ordered 31 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 30 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, with plans to vaccinate 40 million of the country’s 60 million people by February next year.
The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which requires two doses and ultra-cold storage, will be used in the country’s cities that have better access to freezers and the logistics of administering two doses. The J&J vaccine will be given in South Africa’s rural areas.