Head of South Africa's coronavirus committee steps down

Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" and sryinge are seen in front of displayed South Africa flag in this illustration taken, February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The chairman of South Africa’s Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 (MAC), Professor Salim Abdool Karim, stepped down on Thursday, the health ministry said, following a meeting of the body to mark the first anniversary of its formation.

Professor Marian Jacobs, previously co-chair of the advisory body, will take up the role temporarily, the ministry said.

South Africa has been the hardest hit nation on the continent by COVID-19, with the highest number of confirmed cases at over 1.5 million, with more than 50,000 related deaths.

The rollout of vaccines has been slow, with only 207,000 people, mainly frontline health workers, inoculated so far. The government plans to vaccinate 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population, to achieve some level of herd immunity.

“Karim had expressed his desire to return to the important work he was doing, particularly in HIV research and innovation, before his appointment as Chair of the MAC,” the ministry said.

After pausing the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine, South Africa started inoculating healthcare workers with Johnson & Johnson shots in a research study.

Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana, Editing by William Maclean