South Africa has vaccinated at least 15,388 health care workers in less than a week since the country rolled out its COVID-19 vaccination drive, the Health Ministry said Sunday.

“South Africa is rapidly moving to protect its highly valued health care workers through the Sisonke Early Access Programme,” the ministry said in a statement.

Africa’s most advanced economy started vaccinating health workers against the virus Wednesday after receiving its first batch of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine Tuesday night.

The Health Ministry said it held productive discussions with stakeholders from the private sector and the Sisonke Programme who have allocated one-third of all vaccine doses available for private health care workers.

“This means that one-third of the first 80,000 vaccines will be allocated to the private sector over the next 14 days,” it said, adding that at least 3,000 out of the over 10,000 health workers vaccinated on the weekend were from the private health care sector.

The ministry said all health care workers in the country irrespective of where they work need to be vaccinated because a threat to their safety and wellbeing has a further impact on the health system’s capacity to deal with people with COVID-19 during the pandemic.

“We are fully committed to protect the vulnerable health care workers, who have sacrificed so much,” the statement said.

Vaccinations are being administered in phases, with health workers getting the jabs first. The second phase will include other essential workers, teachers, the elderly and those with comorbidities. The third phase will include all other adults.

-Decline in cases, deaths

South Africa has started seeing a decline in coronavirus deaths and cases, according to data released late Sunday by Health Minister Zweli Mkhize.

Mkhize said the country had lost 113 people to the virus on Sunday, while it lost 81 on Saturday.

During the peak of the second wave of COVID-19 in the country in January, the country would record hundreds of deaths daily, but now incidents have started to decline. The total number of people in South Africa who have died so far from the pandemic is 49,053.

The number of cases has also declined in the past week. On Sunday, the country recorded 1,429 new infections, while on Saturday, it recorded 1,690 new cases compared to when it would record over 10,000 new daily cases in January.

South Africa has the highest number of infections on the continent with over 1.5 million cases. It is also the 16th most-affected country in the world.