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JOHANNESBURG, Jan 3 (Reuters) – South Africa is trying to get COVID-19 vaccines as soon as February, but the timing will depend on bilateral negotiations with pharmaceutical companies, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday.
Mkhize’s comments come after a group of prominent local health experts publicly criticised the government for moving too slowly to procure coronavirus vaccines and make public its rollout plan.
South Africa is participating in the COVAX vaccine distribution initiative co-led by the World Health Organization but only expects to receive the first doses from the facility sometime in the second quarter of the year.
That time frame has caused anxiety among some scientists and academics given that some countries have already started vaccinating.
Mkhize added at a news conference that the government’s aim was to vaccinate a minimum of 67% of the country’s population of roughly 60 million people to reach herd immunity.
He said bilateral discussions had been held in relation to vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca and Johnson & Johnson, as well as over vaccines from Russia and China.
Mkhize said officials were considering three mechanisms to fund vaccine procurement: government financing, medical aids and a private sector contribution. (Reporting by Alexander Winning, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Alexandra Hudson)