“RUSH VACCINE” read placards on the plastic-wrapped white boxes rolling off the tarmac at Johannesburg’s O.R. Tambo airport. An overnight flight from the Serum Institute of India brought to South Africa 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Their arrival Feb. 1 was not only the first to reach the country but the first million to reach Africa—a continent of 1.2 billion people.
The boxed vials received a hero’s welcome, with President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize on hand to meet them. Stickers on AstraZeneca boxes read: “May All Be Free From Disease.”
African leaders are in a race to free their countries from the coronavirus spread. South Africa leads the continent in confirmed cases and deaths, spiked in recent weeks by a new variant that’s more infectious and already has spread to the United States.