Russia's ’Sputnik-V’ vaccine against Covid-19. File picture: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters
Russia's ’Sputnik-V’ vaccine against Covid-19. File picture: Tatyana Makeyeva/Reuters

Government approaches Russia, China for Covid-19 vaccines

By Zintle Mahlati Time of article published Feb 11, 2021

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Johannesburg - As the urgent need for vaccine procurement grows, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says the government is in negotiations with the Russia and China to secure the shots.

Mkhize addressed a variety of concerns raised by the public on Wednesday.

The government had to do a U-turn on its plans to begin administering the AstraZeneca vaccine following a study conducted by Wits University – which showed that this vaccine was less effective in preventing mild to moderate effects of the Covid-19 501Y.V2 variant most dominant in South Africa.

The department of health will now push forward the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine which has been shown to be 57% effective against the 501Y.V2 strain.

The minister explained that this vaccine will be rolled out in the form of an  implementation study which will help monitor any effects the vaccine might have on already vaccinated healthcare workers.  He stressed that this was not meant to test the efficiency of the vaccine, but intended to help monitor breakthroughs.

"The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2  variant, and the necessary approval processes used in the country are underway. The rollout of the vaccination will proceed in the form of an implementation study with the partnership between the medical research council and the national department of health’s vaccination sites across the country.

"This will help us get valuable information about the pandemic in the post- vaccination community and thus ensure early identification of breakthrough infections should they occur amongst the vaccinated healthcare workers," the minister said.

Along with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the country is also expected to rollout the Pfizer vaccine.

Both vaccines had to be procured urgently, because of concerns regarding the AstraZeneca vaccine.  This has also resulted in the government needing to re-write its vaccination goals.

Mkhize had earlier indicated that the country aimed to vaccinate 65% of the population by the end of the year with the aim of reaching herd immunity. Those plans have now been put on hold as the AstraZeneca vaccine formed a huge part of the vaccine rollout schedule.

"The new projections, we are going to be revising them. We are just waiting for the complete schedule of the distribution of the vaccines so we can see when those vaccines are available," he said.

Scientists would now be tasked with figuring out a plan on how best the government can use the more than one million AstraZeneca vaccine doses which were procured.

Mkhize said the government was also in talks with the World Health Organization's Covax programme and the African Union, which were on schedule to provide the same vaccine to the country.

He also defended concerns about the April 30 expiry date on AstraZeneca vaccine, explaining that the date had been noted, and if the vaccination schedule had not been interrupted, the doses would have been used by that date.  "The vaccines have not expired,” Mkhize said.

In addition to the two vaccines, the government is in negotiations with US-based pharmaceutical company Moderna, the Russians for their Sputnik V vaccine and China for the country's Sinopharm vaccine.

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Political Bureau

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