South Africa will receive 1.5 million Covid-19 vaccines from the Serum Institute of India, the country's health minister Zweli Mkhize announced Thursday.
Mkhize said the first million doses will arrive this month, with the remainder delivered in February.
Vaccination priority in the first round of inoculations will be given to the nation's more than 1 million health care workers, in both the public and private sector.
The Serum Institute is under contract to produce the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. The deal comes after considerable public pressure in South Africa for the government to speed up its vaccine rollout plan as the country suffers through a dramatic second wave of infection driven, in part, by a more infectious variant of the virus.
One Wednesday, South Africa reported a record of more than 20,000 new confirmed cases. It continues to be the hardest-hit country on the continent, with more than 30,000 Covid-19 deaths.
“We urge the public to be patient with us as we continue to engage manufacturers. Our commitment remains to save and protect the lives of our people. We will not neglect our responsibility to protect lives and also fight this pandemic,” Mkhize said in a statement Thursday.
South Africa will rely on the preexisting regulatory approval given to the vaccine by other countries, according to Mkhize. The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was approved by the UK drug regulator on December 30.
The South African government has also signed up to the COVAX vaccine facility, which aims to provide global access to effective Covid-19 vaccines.
COVAX is expected to begin its first distribution in the second quarter of this year.