Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says the Department of Health will continue with the planned phase-one vaccine rollout using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
This after the government on Sunday said it was temporarily halting the rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine to healthcare workers after preliminary data from a clinical trial found it gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the dominant 501Y.V2 variant discovered in South Africa.
Briefing the media on Wednesday morning, Mkhize said the J&J vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2 variant. He said the necessary approval processes by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) were underway.
“Our scientists are continuing to evaluate other candidates and we are simultaneously engaging manufactures,” Mkhize said.
He said government would soon announce more details about the delivery of J& J vaccine, which it’s likely to be next week.
Procurement of other vaccines
At the same time, Mkhize said that government was in the process of procuring vaccines that preceded the discovery of the 501Y.V2 variant and other variants. He said South African scientists and researchers began studies on the efficacy of various vaccines during 2020.
“They paid a dedicated focus on the impact of vaccines against the 501Y.V2 variant in the latter part of the year and in early January 2021. The results of these studies became available only on Friday, 5 February 2021, and publicly released on Sunday, 7 February 2021,” Mkhize said.
The minister said government had also secured doses from Pfizer for the phase-one vaccination rollout.
He said government was in the advanced stages of evaluating and engaging the manufacturers of the Sputnik-V vaccine from Russia.
“Engagements with Sinopharm also continue with an offer made by China currently being considered. A Non-Disclosure Agreement has been signed and the ratification processes in SAHPRA are in progress. Similarly, our engagements with Moderna are ongoing and we will make further announcements as we always do when we are in a position to do so,” he said.
AstraZeneca vaccine expiry date
Mkhize stressed that the AstraZeneca vaccine has not expired yet.
He said scientists will continue with further deliberations on the use of the vaccine in South Africa and depending on their advice, the vaccine will be swapped before the expiry date of 30 April 2021.
“By exchanging unused vaccines before the expiry date, the Department of Health will ensure that the acquired AstraZeneca vaccines do not become wasteful and fruitless expenditure,” the minister said.
Mkhize said even if the AstraZeneca vaccine would have been administered to healthcare workers, the doses would have been used up before the expired date.
“In keeping with the original vaccine plan, if the Department of Health were to have proceeded with the AstraZenenca vaccine rollout, the doses would have been used up by the expired date. In other words, the expiry date would not have been a factor at all because we would have started the vaccination and we were targeting finishing them long before that date,” he said.