By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
India has officially begun commercial Covid-19 vaccine exports, with the first shipments from the country expected to leave on Friday (22 January).
Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla told Reuters that the first consignments will be shipped to Brazil and Morocco. He added that South Africa and Saudi Arabia would be next to get supplies.
The shots developed by British-based drugmaker AstraZeneca and Oxford University are being manufactured at the Serum Institute of India, the world’s biggest producer of vaccines, which has received orders from countries around the world.
Last week, president Cyril Ramaphosa said the country will get an initial 20 million doses, with the first batch of 1.5 million shots of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca set to arrive this month.
On Monday, Department of Health officials indicated that the country had secured an additional nine million vaccines through a deal with pharmaceutical company Johnson & Johnson.
The J&J deal will take the total number of doses that South Africa stands to receive to around 30 million.
The announcement from India comes as the South African government faces increasing scrutiny for being slow off the mark to secure vaccines.
While developing nation peers such as Indonesia and Argentina are among more than 50 already administering shots, South Africa’s inoculation program has yet to get off the ground.
In December, it pinned down sufficient doses to cover just 10% of the population from Covax, a facility that aims to distribute vaccines equitably around the world.
But those are only due to start arriving from February and health authorities have been scrambling to source additional supplies. Adding to the pressure is a second Covid-19 wave which is currently impacting the country.
On Thursday (21 January), South Africa reported 11,381 new cases, taking the total reported to 1,380,807.
Deaths have reached 39,501 (a daily increase of 647), while recoveries have climbed to 1,183,443, leaving the country with a balance of 187,863 active cases.