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South Africa restarts vaccine drive, Zimbabwe gets Sinopharm vaccines

By Otiato Opali in Nairobi, Kenya | chinadaily.com.cn | Updated: 2021-02-17 20:46

South Africa is poised to become the first country in Africa to administer a COVID-19 vaccine created by the pharmacy giant Johnson and Johnson this week.

This is after South African health officials paused the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine and recalibrated their plans based on preliminary evidence that raised questions about the ability of the Oxford-made vaccine to protect against severe illness from the recently discovered South African variant of COVID-19.

Speaking on Tuesday, Glenda Gray, president of the South African Medical Research Council, said that it is incredible that the country could switch so quickly after noticing that the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective in tackling the South African variant of COVID-19

"We were going to start the AstraZeneca program on Monday, and we are announcing the initiation of an alternative program to start the same week, which I think is phenomenal. The shift to the J&J was an important decision, because it's the only vaccine that we knew would help against hospitalization and death," Gray said.

The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires just one jab and can be stored in standard refrigerators, avoiding the need for people to return for a second shot.

Sandile Buthelezi, the deputy director-general of South Africa's national health department, said Tuesday that South Africa plans to try to recoup its investment in 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine that the government purchased from the Serum Institute of India. According to Buthelezi, that may include sharing at least 1 million doses with other countries in the African Union.

In neighboring Zimbabwe, the country received its first 200,000 coronavirus vaccines, a donation from the Chinese government.

Speaking on Monday at the Robert Mugabe International Airport in Zimbabwe's capital, Harare, while receiving the vaccines, Constantino Chiwenga, vice-president and Zimbabwe's health minister, said the donation is one of China's first shipments of vaccines to Africa, after deliveries to Egypt and Equatorial Guinea.

He added that Emmerson Mnangagwa, Zimbabwe's president, had confirmed the government has purchased an additional 600,000 Sinopharm vaccine doses that are expected to arrive early next month.

"We thank China for this timely donation. Our people have suffered from this pandemic. The vaccine offers the possibility that our people who have borne the brunt of the economic ravages of the pandemic might finally turn a new page," Chiwenga said.

Mnangagwa said vaccination would start this week.

"The faster our country is protected against this virus, the faster Zimbabwe's economy can flourish," Mnangagwa said.

Guo Shaochun, China's Ambassador to Zimbabwe, said the country was one of the first of 58 countries to receive Sinopharm vaccine.

"Zimbabwe is our brother so the supply of vaccines to Zimbabwe is not a problem," Guo said.

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