UPDATE 1-South Africa aims to vaccinate 1.1 million by the end of March

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CAPE TOWN, February 25 (Reuters). South Africa plans to vaccinate around 1.1 million people against COVID-19 by the end of March in order to accelerate the vaccination program, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday.

Speaking before parliament, Mkhize also said authorities may need to vaccinate more than their original target of 40 million people in order to achieve herd immunity.

The country, which has been far more severely affected by the pandemic than any other in Africa, began the launch of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) vaccine last week in a research study targeting healthcare workers. She hopes to receive doses of the Pfizer vaccine soon.

Mkhize said more than 32,000 health workers have received the J&J shot so far.

Previously, South Africa had received 20 million doses from Pfizer and 9 million from J&J.

But Mkhize said those numbers were just “opening negotiations” and the final volumes are likely to be different. “As soon as it’s ready, we’ll be announcing new numbers very soon,” he said.

Authorities had estimated that at least 40 million people needed to be vaccinated to ensure the population’s herd immunity.

“As we continue our discussions, we may have to do more than 40 million,” Mkhize told the Upper House of Parliament.

Mkhize, a trained doctor, said Tuesday that government advisors had broken COVID-19 vaccines into three categories and those that would be considered for “immediate use” were the shots by J&J, Pfizer and Moderna.

A Health Department presentation Thursday said that it could take “a few months” for J & J’s vaccine to be “fully licensed” by local drug agency SAHPRA.

Around 1.5 million COVID-19 cases and 49,500 deaths have been recorded in South Africa to date, which is more than a third and almost half, respectively, of Africa’s total. (Reporting by Wendell Roelf Editing by Alexander Winning and John Stonestreet)

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