“The arrival of the first vaccines is excellent news and a step in the right direction for South Africa,” said Professor Willem Hanekom, director of the Africa Health Research Institute.
Although the variant that has become dominant in South Africa is expected to reduce the efficacy of the AstraZeneca and other vaccines, Hanekom said initial trials indicate that all the various inoculations will still offer good protection.
“The most important point that should be emphasised is that while the vaccines offer variable efficacy in preventing infection with COVID-19, so far severe disease and death are prevented by all the vaccines,” he said from his office in Durban.
“So it doesn’t matter the level of efficacy, the vaccines all seem to work pretty well against severe disease and death, even against this new variant, it appears. And that is very good news.”
South Africa’s government intends to inoculate 40 million people, representing 67 per cent of the country’s population of 60 million, by the end of the year.
South Africa has by far the highest number of COVID-19 cases in all of Africa, with 1.45 million confirmed cases, including 44,164 deaths, according to official figures released on Sunday.
The South African government has already launched a social media campaign to build enthusiasm for vaccines.
Hashtags like #VacciNation and #ListenToTheExperts accompanied by attractive graphics are circulating to promote support for vaccines and to counteract rumours and misinformation about COVID-19.
South Africa has recently passed its second peak of COVID-19 that was nearly double the numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalisations and deaths in the first surge. South Africa’s seven-day rolling average of daily new cases has dropped significantly over the past two weeks from 25 new cases per 100,000 people on January 17 to 10 new cases per 100,000 people on January 31.
As a result, several COVID-19 restrictions are easing. The sale of alcoholic beverages will now be permitted Monday through Thursday, bars and restaurants will be permitted to sell alcohol, and the hours of the nighttime curfew will be reduced to be in effect from 11pm until 4am.