Deputy director-general of the health department Nicholas Crisp. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/FREDDY MAVUNDA
Deputy director-general of the health department Nicholas Crisp. Picture: BUSINESS DAY/FREDDY MAVUNDA

SA has asked Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer to delay delivery of Covid-19 vaccines because it now has too much stock, health ministry officials said, as vaccine hesitancy slows an inoculation campaign.

About 35% of South Africans are fully vaccinated, higher than in most other African nations, but half the government’s year-end target. It has averaged 106,000 doses a day in the past 15 days in a nation of 60-million people.

Earlier in 2021 the programme was slowed by insufficient doses. Now deliveries have been delayed due to oversupply, making the country an outlier in the continent where most are still starved of vaccines.

Nicholas Crisp, deputy director-general of the health department, told Reuters that SA had 16.8-million doses in stock and said deliveries had been deferred.

“We have 158 days’ stock in the country at current use,” a spokesperson for the health ministry said. “We have deferred some deliveries.”

They did not say when deliveries would now take place.

Stavros Nicolaou, CEO of Aspen Pharmacare , which is packaging 25-million doses a month of J&J vaccines in SA, said most of the vaccines bound for SA would now go to the rest of the continent.

Nicolaou, who is also chair of public health at lobby group Business for SA (B4SA), said deliveries would most likely be deferred until the first quarter of 2022.

Vaccines packaged at Aspen’s plant are part of the AU’s agreement to buy 220-million doses from J&J.

The AU and J&J did not respond to an email seeking comment.

A Pfizer spokesperson said: “We remain adaptable to individual country’s vaccine requirements while continuing to meet our quarterly commitments as per the SA supply agreement.”

The government has been seeking to boost the rate of daily administered doses.

“There is a fair amount of apathy and hesitancy,” said Shabir Madhi, who led the clinical study for the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine in SA.

To ramp up vaccinations, the government has launched pop-up vaccination centres and sought help from community leaders. It has also opened inoculations to children aged 12-17 years.

Reuters

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