South Africa will import 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to inoculate the country’s health workers, the government said Thursday. It is the first announcement of the purchase of vaccines against COVID-19 in the country, as one of the measures to control the virus.

The first million doses will be delivered this month from the Serum Institute of India. Another 500,000 doses would arrive in February, said Health Minister Zwelini Mkhize.

South Africa is not the first country on the 54-nation continent to announce a vaccine agreement. Morocco announced last month that it had ordered 65 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines from China’s Sinpharm and Britain’s AstraZeneca.

South Africa has 1.25 million health workers between public and private hospitals, and the government has decided to give them priority in immunization against COVID-19, Mkhize said.

The health department has purchased the vaccine directly from the manufacturer, he added.

The South African drug regulatory agency is «fine-tuning and aligning all regulatory processes to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays or regulatory impediments to triggering this rollout,» Mkhize said.

The minister said this week that Johannesburg hoped to procure vaccines to inoculate about 6 million people, or 10% of the population, through the international COVAX initiative starting in April. The government aims to vaccinate 67% of the population by the end of 2021

«We urge the public to be patient with us as we continue to work with manufacturers (on purchasing additional vaccines),» Mkhize said. «We will not abandon our responsibility to protect lives and to fight this pandemic.»