In addition to toughening a nationwide lockdown, the government plans to prioritize vaccines for 1.2 million front-line healthcare workers. Toward that end, the government recently announced it has agreed to buy from the Serum Institute of India 1.5 million doses of a Covid-19 vaccine manufactured by AstraZeneca.

While delivery is slated for this month and next, the vaccine itself requires two doses, leaving about 40% of the workers in the priority group without an immunization until the government procures more vaccine.

South Africa has secured at least 20 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from manufacturers, including Pfizer, AstraZeneca, and Johnson & Johnson, as part of a bulk purchase by the African Union, according to the president.

A spokesperson for South Africa’s health ministry confirmed a report that the order includes 9 million doses of the J&J vaccine, which has yet to be established as effective in large-scale trials. Ramaphosa also has said the country expects to receive enough vaccine for 10% of its population through the international distribution initiative Covax.

In December, South Africa joined with India to urge the World Trade Organization to suspend patent protections on vaccines to allow the countries to manufacture their own, a prospect that Shabir Madhi, a professor of vaccinology at the University of Witwatersrand, said in a TV interview isn’t realistic given South Africa lacks both the resources and capital to develop and commercialize a vaccine at scale.

“I think we need to become focused on setting realistic targets,” says Madhi. “For me, a realistic target for the rest of 2021 is to make sure that we get healthcare workers immunized as quickly as possible and then focus on how we’re going to get those individuals at risk of developing severe Covid-19 vaccinated before the next resurgence arrives.”

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