Anban Pillay, the deputy director-general at the Department of Health, told Reuters on Tuesday that it is not true that Pretoria had tried to send 1 million doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine back to the Serum Institute of India, where it was manufactured, but confirmed the country would offload the vaccines.
“The doses are going to be shared with countries on the continent… via the AU (African Union),” Pillay said, adding that the country is looking to recover the money spent on the vaccines but hadn’t worked out how that would happen in practice.
South Africa paused its rollout of the AstraZeneca jab earlier in February after a small study claimed that the vaccine was ineffective against the dominant strain of Covid-19 in the country.
While none of the 2,000 study participants were hospitalized with severe symptoms or died, 39 eventually caught the virus – 19 from the vaccine group and 20 from the placebo group.
AstraZeneca questioned the thoroughness of the study and said that while it has already started adapting its vaccine against the South African variant, it hopes that further studies will prove it to be effective in preventing severe cases caused by this and other variants of coronavirus.
The African Union said it will still support the use of the jab despite efficacy concerns and its effectiveness against the South African variant. Around 100 million AstraZeneca vaccines are due to be delivered to the AU this year.
Instead, Pretoria plans to continue its inoculation campaign using Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine despite it not being used anywhere in world.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will first be administered to healthcare workers as part of a trial next week.
President Cyril Ramaphosa told lawmakers last week that the study aims to inoculate between 350,000 to 500,000 healthcare workers, with 80,000 jabs expected to arrive this week.
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