South Africa, the continent’s hardest virus-hit country has missed the initial payment deadline to join the COVAX Covid-19 vaccine distribution scheme, local media reported Thursday.
The country, which accounts for more than a third of Africa’s 2.2 million infections, is expecting to secure its first doses through the World Health Organization initiative to facilitate poor countries’ access to coronavirus vaccines.
Despite Finance Minister Tito Mboweni’s announcement last month that the treasury had $33 million (27 million euros) available for vaccines, local online news platform News24 reported that South Africa had missed the first payment window to join COVAX.
The government’s health regulation chief Anban Pillay told the news website that payment was delayed because the department was awaiting approvals from the treasury.
COVAX is a global collaboration involving over 180 countries working with vaccine manufacturers to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines once approved.
The finance minister said the country will raise a total of five billion rand ($330 million, 270 million euros), enough to inoculate up to 10 percent of the population of 58 million people.
Top vaccinologist Shabir Madhi, who heads two of South Africa’s three vaccine clinical trials, said immunising 70 to 80 percent of the population would be an ideal target.
But logistical and other constraints render that impossible for now, and vaccination of 30 to 40 percent of the adult population would “greatly” assist in controlling the infection spread, he said.
South Africa has registered 796,472 cases since the pandemic broke out in March, including 21,709 fatalities.
Recent localised coronavirus outbreaks in parts of the country have raised fears of a resurgence in cases, compounded by gatherings during the upcoming festive season.
Health ministry officials did not respond to calls requesting comment.