A health worker being vaccinated in SA. Picture: ALON SKUY
A health worker being vaccinated in SA. Picture: ALON SKUY

SA is negotiating with an AU platform to buy Covid-19 vaccines for at least 10-million of its people, a senior health official said on Friday.

SA was provisionally allocated 12-million doses developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer-BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) in an AU vaccine plan, but it was unclear how many vaccines it would seek to buy after it halted plans to use the AstraZeneca shot.

Sandile Buthelezi, department of health director-general, did not say which vaccines the country would order via the AU in comments to parliament.

SA has reported the most infections and deaths in Africa, and suffered a severe second wave of cases driven by a more contagious variant of the coronavirus.

Like other African countries, it has lagged wealthier parts of the world in immunisations. So far, it has administered some 90,000 doses of J&J’s shot in a research study targeting up to 500,000 health workers.

The government put AstraZeneca vaccinations on hold last month because a small local trial showed the drugmaker’s vaccine offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the 501Y.V2 variant.

Buthelezi said on Friday that SA is trying to reach an agreement with the AU, Afreximbank and the Serum Institute of India (SII) to sell AstraZeneca doses it had ordered from the SII to about 18 other African countries.

Explaining why it had not yet received doses from the Covax vaccine scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, Buthelezi said: “Their allocation was heavily biased towards AstraZeneca ... Then we told them ‘Hold on guys, we can’t take the AstraZeneca as is, for now let’s consider other vaccines, either the Pfizer or the J&’, hence the delay.”

SA is expecting to receive 117,000 Pfizer doses via Covax in March.

Stavros Nicolaou, an executive at Aspen Healthcare, which will be making J&J doses in SA, said the country faces big challenges in its vaccination campaign.

SA is only due to receive vaccines for about 6-million people by the end of the second quarter, he said, as it heads into winter when a third wave of infections is expected.

It will also have to scale up daily vaccinations from about 5,000 in the J&J study to about 250,000 to hit its target of immunising 40-million people, or two-thirds of the population, over the next year, Nicolaou said.


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