SA's AstraZeneca vaccines will be offered to other African countries as first J&J shots expected

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Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Minister of Health, Dr Zweli Mkhize.
Jeffrey Abrahams
  • South Africa have secured enough doses to vaccinate everyone who will need it, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said.
  • He remained scant on the details.
  • The already purchased AstraZaneca doses will be provided to the African Union platform.

South Africa "actually secured enough doses to vaccinate all the people who will need to be vaccinated", Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a joint sitting of Parliament on Tuesday.

But how many doses have been secured, from whom, when it will arrive and how it will be rolled out, have yet to be announced.

On Thursday, President Cyril Ramaphosa glossed over government's rollout plan for vaccinations in his State of the Nation Address (SONA). Speaking early on in the debate on SONA, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize continued to keep government's cards close to the chest.

READ | Covid-19: 8 things you need to know about the vaccine rollout

"As government, we are actively engaging manufacturers and suppliers of the Covid-19 vaccines through different, but interrelated channels. These include the Covax facility, bilateral arrangements with pharmaceutical manufacturers and other mechanisms such as the African Union's Vaccines Financing Strategy and the Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

"These initiatives have to-date allowed us to engage with the manufacturers of multiple vaccines, namely AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Sinopharm, Sinovac, and the Sputnik V.

"Recently, we have been in discussion with Cuba to engage them on the development of their candidate vaccine."

Clarion call 

He said government has heard South Africans' "clarion call" to develop and manufacture our own Covid-19 tools, including vaccines.

"It is for this reason that we have been engaging our Brics partners and the government of Cuba to collaborate in a technology sharing exercise that will see us advancing towards independence and self-reliance in a future where there will be more public health threats," Mkhize said.

Mkhize said the recent debacle with the AstraZeneca vaccine "was certainly disappointing".

"However, we were determined not to be derailed from our commitment to roll out vaccines in February."

"The AstraZeneca doses we purchased have been offered to the African Union platform, of which we are part of, and the AU will distribute to those countries who have already expressed interest in acquiring the stock. Therefore, please be assured there will be no wasteful and fruitless expenditure," Mkhize said.

READ | Phase 1 of vaccine rollout will continue with Johnson & Johnson, says Mkhize

He referred to Ramaphosa's announcement that nine million doses of the vaccine had been secured from Johnson & Johnson, with the first batch of 80 000 to be delivered this week.

"His Excellency the President will announce the date and time of the first vaccinations," Mkhize said.

He said an additional 500 000 doses are expected to arrive over the next four weeks, supplemented by another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine that is expected to be received at the end of March 2021.

Secured

"I can also say that we have actually secured enough doses to vaccinate all the people who will need to be vaccinated in South Africa."

"I would like to take the opportunity of settling the matter of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout because it must be understood that our sole purpose is to save lives and protect our healthcare workers."

READ | SIU PPE probe reveals 'flagrant disregard of law'

He said it is undisputed that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has a 57% efficacy against the 501Y.V2 variant and is fully protective against serious illness or death.

"On this basis, Johnson & Johnson is applying for Emergency Use Authorisation and it is expected that it will be granted," he said.

"With this evidence in hand, we will begin by vaccinating our healthcare workers with the Johnson and Johnson vaccine."

Mkhize praised the Medical Research Council, led by Professor Glenda Gray, the officials at the National Department of Health led by the director-general Dr Sandile Buthelezi and Johnson & Johnson for "essentially working a miracle to ensure that our plans are not derailed".

Mkhize said nearly 380 000 healthcare workers had registered for vaccinations.

He ran out of the allotted time for his speech, but the copy of his speech distributed to the media contained the following information: 20 vaccination centres have been identified in all nine provinces to inoculate 80 000 healthcare workers over the next two weeks. 164 vaccinators will vaccinate approximately 48 people a day - that is about six to seven an hour.

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