There's debate on whether SA can vaccinate 67% of citizens by end of 2021

Scientist Professor Alex van den Heever said that was an overly ambitious target to meet.

A medical worker addresses some of the first South African Oxford vaccine trialists waiting ahead of the clinical trial for a potential vaccine against COVID-19 at the Baragwanath hospital in Soweto on 24 June 2020. Picture: AFP

JOHANNESBURG – A leading scientist said on Monday it's unlikely South Africa would achieve its target of COVID herd immunity by the end of this year.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize briefed the nation on Sunday night on government's efforts to begin the mass vaccination campaign.

He said they were in talks with several vaccine manufacturers and were at an advanced stage of negotiating a public-private partnership to make it all work - with the hope that some supplies would arrive by February.

READ: Mkhize: Govt aims to secure COVID-19 vaccines as early as February

The ultimate aim is to vaccinate a minimum of 67% of the population to reach herd immunity by the end of this year.

That equates to 40 million people, which means we'll have to vaccinate more than 100,000 people every day to be in the clear by the end of December.

Scientist Professor Alex van den Heever said that was an overly ambitious target to meet.

“The objective of vaccinating 67% of South Africa’s population by the end of 2021 is not achievable any more.

"And that’s largely because they only started thinking of negotiating with large pharmaceutical companies in the last 6 weeks or so when they should have begun discussions about 6 months ago,” said Van den Heever.

There's been growing criticism of government's response - with South Africans watching on as many other countries roll out mass immunisation programmes.

Many other countries started their vaccination programmes in December already.

Ministerial Advisory Committee member Barry Schoub said he believed government was close to finalising discussions with pharmaceutical companies to secure vaccines for South Africa.

Schoub said South Africa was not the only country lagging behind.

“What has happened is the very high-income countries went and pre-purchased vaccines on risk, in other words while the trials were being carried out. And the middle-income countries couldn’t really afford to do that. South Africa is, of course, a middle-income country,” said Schoub.

“So to some extent the high-income countries - representing about 13% of the world’s population – and they pre-ordered about 51% of the production.”

South Africa is battling a resurgence in coronavirus infections driven partly by a new variant.

It’s recorded more than 1.1 million infections, the most on the African continent, and more than 29,000 deaths.

The Health Department confirmed overnight that 402 more people died in this country after contracting the virus and almost 12,000 new infections were picked up over the past 24-hour period.

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