JOHANNESBURG — South Africa will donate just over 2 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to other African countries to boost the continent’s COVID-19 vaccine drive, the government announced Friday.
The doses, worth approximately $18 million, will be produced at the Aspen Pharmacare manufacturing facility in Gqeberha, formerly Port Elizabeth, and be distributed to various African countries over the next year, according to a statement.
“This donation embodies South Africa’s solidarity with our brothers and sisters on the continent with whom we are united in fighting an unprecedented threat to public health and economic prosperity,” President Cyril Ramaphosa said in the statement.
“The only way in which we can prevent COVID-19 transmission and protect economies and societies on our continent is to successfully immunize a critical mass of the African population with safe and effective vaccines,” said Ramaphosa.
Ramaphosa is “ making good progress in his recovery from COVID-19 while continuing treatment for mild symptoms,” his office said in a separate statement Friday. Ramaphosa, 69, tested positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 12 and has been isolated at the official residence in Cape Town since then, with treatment by the South African military health service.
Ramaphosa is “in good spirits and comfortable in his recovery,” the statement said.
South Africa’s donation will add to the more than 100 million vaccine doses that have been donated to the African Union’s African Vaccination Acquisition Trust. The African vaccination group has also purchased 500 million doses to be distributed to countries across the continent.
Africa remains the world’s least vaccinated continent. The World Health Organization said that Africa might not reach the target of vaccinating 70% of its 1.3 billion population until the second half of 2024.
Just 20 of Africa’s 54 countries have fully vaccinated at least 10% of their populations against COVID-19. Ten African countries have less than 2% of their populations fully vaccinated, according to WHO.
South Africa is currently battling the resurgence of the coronavirus fuelled by the omicron variant. South Africa recorded 24,785 new infections and 36 deaths in the most recent 24-hour reporting cycle. The country’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has risen steeply over the past two weeks from 8.59 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 2 to 39.11 new cases per 100,000 people on Dec. 16.
More than 78% of the new cases are from the omicron variant, Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in a briefing Friday.
Hospitalizations and deaths from COVID-19 have increased somewhat but not at rates comparable to the sharp upward curve of new cases, health experts said. In South Africa, omicron has so far resulted in more mild cases than the previous wave, driven by the delta variant, according to health experts. The population’s exposure to the coronavirus, as shown by blood tests for be at 72%, could be contributing to the less severe symptoms from omicron, experts said Friday.
South African scientists say that their analysis of data suggests the Pfizer vaccine offers less defense against infection from omicron and reduced, but still good, protection from hospitalization.
Despite the increased number of COVID-19 cases, the government hasn’t announced an increase in restrictions.
In contrast to many other African countries, South Africa now has adequate supplies of vaccine doses, estimated at 19 million, but the number of people getting vaccinated has slowed dramatically. Just 12,500 shots were given Thursday, according to official figures, down from an average of about 120,000 per day in November.
More than 15 million South Africans are fully vaccinated, representing 38% of the adult population, according to official statistics.
“We are very worried about the drastic decline in the uptake of vaccinations, especially in the last seven to 10 days,” Health Minister Joe Phaahla said in a media briefing Friday.
He urged South Africans to get vaccination shots before the holidays. “Jab before jive!” Phaahla said.
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