Relief. You could see it on the faces of healthcare workers receiving the first Covid-19 vaccines this week, and feel it in the air as the country took in the news. Nurse Zoliswa Gidi-Dyosi, four other healthcare workers, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, all received SA’s first vaccines in Khayelitsha on Wednesday.

Ramaphosa looked away as he received his dose and tried to put on a brave face. Afterwards, he promised that the procedure was painless, but it’s endearing that even the president is a little squeamish about needles. 

Don’t be fooled by the president’s wince: Wednesday was anything but painful. From Khayelitsha to Soweto, healthcare workers rejoiced – literally – as the first Covid-19 vaccines subsequently arrived across the country. 

News24 reports that jubilant Soweto healthcare workers received their jabs, while staff at the Livingstone Hospital in the Eastern Cape threw their hands in the air with cries of joy when the box of vaccines arrived, according to the Daily Maverick.

In a country reeling from a deadly second wave of the coronavirus, where until recently, a vaccination programme didn’t seem guaranteed amid global vaccine inequality, watching the first doses being administered brought a lump to the throat of even the gruffest South African. 

This was especially so, given last week’s disconcerting news that the AstraZeneca vaccine had to be placed on hold. A study showed that it was less effective against mild cases of the new Covid-19 variant, but the study did not test its efficacy for more severe illnesses. Johnson & Johnson stepped in, providing the country with 80 000 vaccines that it had available. Mkhize told Parliament this week that the country has now secured enough vaccines for the majority of the population, although they will take a while to reach the entire country.

Ramaphosa’s ouchie aside, his endorsement of the vaccine was a powerful statement in a climate of vaccine scepticism. And with the first jab that was administered this week, the country got a shot in the arm of the one thing we’ve so dearly needed since this wretched pandemic broke out: hope.

This article appeared as part of The Wrap, 18 February 2021. Sign up to receive our weekly updates.