South Africa launches vaccine roll-out with Johnson & Johnson jab

Healthcare workers and government officials first to be given one-shot vaccine as part of observational study to kick off inoculation drive.

South Africa has kicked off its vaccination campaign against COVID-19 by injecting healthcare workers with the shot developed by Johnson & Johnson as part of an observational study.

The first healthcare worker was inoculated at 1pm (11:00 GMT) on Wednesday at the Khayelitsha District Hospital in Cape Town, following the arrival of 80,000 vaccine doses at Johannesburg’s international airport the night before.

President Cyril Ramaphosa, along with Health Minister Zweli Mkhize and Deputy Health Minister Joe Phaahla, were also among the first to be vaccinated.

“This day marks a milestone for South Africa. Finally, the vaccines are here, and they are being administered,” Ramaphosa told reporters as he sought to allay any fears among South Africans sceptical about an inoculation drive that has been hit by delays and the spread of misinformation.

“I’d like to invite South Africans to take this up so that we can all be safe and we can all be healthy.”

The single-dose vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson is the first to be used outside a clinical trial and is not yet approved for general use anywhere in the world.

Earlier this month, the drug company applied to the United States’ Food and Drug Administration to authorise its vaccine for emergency use after preliminary clinical trial results showed it was 66-percent effective overall and offered 85-percent protection against severe illness 28 days after inoculation. The US regulator will make a recommendation on February 26.

In South Africa, Johnson & Johnson has received approval for the use of its jab for the implementation study but it has not yet applied for emergency use, according to the country’s regulator.

The company’s jab has been shown to offer 57 percent protection against moderate to severe COVID-19 infections caused by a more transmissible new variant, the 501Y.V2 also known as B.1.351, which counts for 90 percent of cases in the country. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, along with the one developed by Novavax (50 percent protection) are the only two vaccines that have shown efficacy in clinical trials held in South Africa against the new variant.

To date, the country has registered nearly 1.5 million cases – 41 percent of the continent’s reported infections – and more than 48,300 related deaths.

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