The Democratic Alliance (DA) has called on government to immediately begin with the roll-out of the one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine that is currently lying in storage at the Biovac Institute warehouse in Midrand, Gauteng.
DA leader John Steenhuisen on Friday said there was broad scientific consensus that the vaccine was not only safe but also largely effective against Covid-19.
The DA’s call followed announcements by several European countries this week to resume using the jab after concerns were raised about reports of rare brain blood clots caused by the vaccine.
South Africa halted the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine in February after preliminary data showed the shot gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the 501Y.V2 variant discovered in the country last year. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the vaccine would be sold to the African Union and distributed to about 20 countries on the continent.
Government opted to administer the single-dose Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine to healthcare workers in a clinical trial study. To date, over 170 000 healthcare workers have been inoculated under the Sisonke Study.
Steenhuisen said allowing the vaccines to expire in the warehouse because government could not manage a roll-out plan would be an unforgivable dereliction of its duty to protect its own citizens.
“Last month Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said that the plan with these vaccines would depend on the advice from leading scientists. Since then both the World Health Organisation and the European Medicines Agency, as well as local vaccinology and pandemic experts such as Wits University’s Prof Shabir Madhi and Prof Alex van den Heever, have all given the green light on the vaccine’s safety and efficacy,” Steenhuisen said in a statement.
“Countries such as Germany, France, Italy and Spain have also said they would resume with administering AstraZeneca to their citizens.”
He said while the AstraZeneca shot may not offer full protection against the 501.V2 variant, it gave protection against the original variant of the virus as well as offering protection against severe illness and death.
“With the elderly and those with co-morbidities facing the daunting prospect of a third wave of Covid-19 with no protection as we head into winter, it would be criminal to let these vaccines go to waste,” Steenhuisen said.
“Whether these million doses are split up into two batches to administer the first and second shot, or whether all one million are used for a first shot, and we then order the second shot from the Serum Institute of India (which are available to us), we have no time to waste in starting the roll-out. Holding out for a buyer on the African continent who is prepared to pay the same inflated amount as we did would also be a kick in the teeth of every South African desperately looking for protection from the virus.”