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SA in talks to possibly swap AstraZeneca vaccine - Mkhize

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize Picture: Itumeleng English/African News Agency(ANA)

Published Feb 10, 2021


DURBAN - THE Department of Health is expected to continue with the planned Phase 1 vaccination using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

This morning, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said scientists will continue with further deliberations on the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa, and depending on their advice, the vaccine will be swapped before the expiry date.

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During a media briefing on Sunday, it was revealed that the rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine, which had been scheduled to begin in South Africa this month was on temporary hold after data showed the vaccine gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country's dominant coronavirus variant.

It was also revealed that the 1.5 million doses of the vaccine received earlier this month, will expire in April.

Mkhize said South African scientists and researchers commenced 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, last week and was publicly released on Sunday. It is as a result of this work, in which the government has directly invested, that it was established that the AstraZeneca vaccine does not prevent mild to moderate disease of the 501Y.V2 variant. This timely finding has ensured that all measures are taken to utilise the most efficacious vaccine in our vaccination strategy," Mkhize explained.

He said all vaccines were developed on the basis of the original SARS-COV-2 variant that was prevalent throughout the world.

Mkhize said the government’s process of procuring vaccines preceded the discovery of the 501Y.V2 variant and other variants.

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"Before the efficacy results, South Africa could not delay receipt of the vaccine batches to await the results of the efficacy studies by our scientists, as this would have relegated the country to the back of the line for vaccines due to global shortage of supplies," he said.

He added that there were concerns in the public domain about the expiry date - April 30, 2021, of the received AstraZeneca vaccine batches

"The vaccines have not expired. In addition, in keeping with the original vaccination plan, if the Department of Health were to proceed with the AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out, the doses would be used up by the expiry date. Furthermore, the April expiry date was not discovered by accident but through the implementation of our quality assurance and control protocols," Mkhize said.

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The Minister said the department has been evaluating and engaging the manufacturers of Russia’s Sputnik V candidate.

He said 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 is 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.

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Mkhize said on the other hand, SA scientists will continue with further deliberations on the AstraZeneca vaccine use in South Africa, and depending on their advice, the vaccine will be swapped before the expiry date.

"By exchanging unused vaccines before the expiry date, the Department of Heath will ensure that the acquired AstraZeneca vaccines do not become wasteful and fruitless expenditure," Mkhize said.

"We wish to remind fellow citizens that the mainstay of preventing Covid-19, until the country reaches population immunity, remains the continued adherence to health protocols of washing hands with soap or 70% alcohol-based sanitiser, wearing of masks in public, and to keep to the 1.5 meters social distance," Mkhize concluded.

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