Discovery Health chief executive Ryan Noach has warned about the lack of transparency in the development of the Covid-19 vaccines being produced by China and Russia, saying he wouldn’t take them if they landed on his desk.
This after the Department of Health said on Wednesday it was also considering the Sinovac vaccine from China and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine to form part of South Africa’s vaccination programme.
Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed that the first batch of one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India (SII) would arrive in the country on Monday. However, it would take 10 to 14 days for various processes to be completed before the vaccines are ready to be distributed across the country.
Speaking during a webinar hosted by non-profit organisation, Afrika Tikkun, on Thursday morning, Noach said the vaccines from China and Russia had not released their phase-three data for review by health experts. He also said little was known about their efficacy.
In phase-three efficacy trials, scientists give the vaccine to thousands of people in order to determine how many become infected, compared with volunteers who received a placebo.
“Neither the Russians or the Chinese have produced phase-three data on their vaccines,” Noach said.
Both the Sinovac (50%-70% effective) and Sputnik V (92%) vaccines require two doses to be effective.
Noach said there were close to 200 vaccines that were being looked at globally. 10 vaccines had already been approved – including the Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines – and licensed with a further 22 in phase three of clinical trials.
Noach said Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J’s) Covid-19 vaccine, which is a single dose vaccine, would probably get approved within two weeks and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) has to approve it after receiving phase-three trials.
“The fact that Johnson & Johnson’s Covid-19 vaccine is a single dose is very important for South Africa,” he said.
In November last year, Aspen announced it would produce the J&J vaccine in Port Elizabeth following the signing of a technology transfer agreement between the two companies.
Noach, however, raised concerns that despite the vaccine being produced locally, it didn’t mean it would be widely available in South Africa.
The global healthcare group will decide if any of the 230 million doses of its vaccine will be sold in the South African market.