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South Africa to Begin Testing COVID-19 Vaccines Before Launching Program

South African law enforcement vehicles provide security for two refrigeration trucks transporting the AstraZenica vaccine that arrived earlier from India, near Johannesburg, Feb. 1, 2021.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said medical regulators will begin testing the integrity of the country's first batch of AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19 before vaccinating front line healthcare workers.

He made the comment during a national address late Monday, hours after he and other dignitaries accepted 1.2 million doses of vaccine that arrived at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo International Airport Monday afternoon.

President Ramaphosa said after healthcare workers get their shots the country aims to vaccinate essential workers, people over 60 years of age, people with co-morbidities and those living in places such as nursing homes.

The remainder of the adult population will get their shots in the third phase of the vaccination program.

South Africa is the African nation hardest hit by the novel coronavirus, with more than 1.4 million confirmed cases since the virus turned up in the country in March.

The nation’s second wave of the virus fueled by a new variant that surfaced in late December appears to be subsiding.

The head of South Africa’s coronavirus task force, Dr. Salim Abdool Karim, said the current vaccines are expected to work on the new variant, called 501.V2,

Ramaphosa said in addition to Monday’s shipment the country is due to receive another 500,000 doses from the Serum Institute of India next month.

South Africa has also secured millions of doses of vaccine from Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer and the global COVAX facility, which is a worldwide collaboration to speed up the development, production and access to COVID-19 treatments and vaccines.

The president said South Africa will also receive an allocation of vaccine doses through the African Union, which has been negotiating with manufacturers to secure vaccines for the entire continent on a pooled basis.

South Africa will now become the fifth African nation to roll out vaccinations, after Morocco, Egypt, the Seychelles and Guinea.