SA offers its AstraZeneca jabs to African Union

South Africa said Tuesday that, due to efficacy issues, it will offer its Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid vaccine doses to the African Union (AU) after scrapping their use.

After a study showed the jab failed to avoid mild and moderate illness caused by a variant found in South Africa, the country postponed its vaccine rollout — expected to start with the AstraZeneca shots earlier this month.

“The doses we purchased have been offered to the African Union to distribute to those countries who have already expressed interest in acquiring the stock,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told parliament.

According to Nation Africa, million doses of Covishield, a clone of the vaccine produced by the Serum Institute of India, was acquired by the continent’s hardest-hit country by the pandemic and was set to receive an additional 500,000.

The AU has obtained some 270 million doses of anti-Covid vaccine for the continent through its African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) and last week said it would not “walk away” from the AstraZeneca formula.

It suggested that countries where there was no identification of the South African variant continue with the rollout.

South Africa has now settled for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine that has yet to be approved, securing nine million doses, including 80,000 anticipated this week to be shipped.

As part of an implementation report, Mkhize said, vaccination starts with healthcare workers.

Tulio de Oliveira, a virology professor based in South Africa who helped identify the new version, was optimistic that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine would prove a success in the country.

“It doesn’t need the high levels of refrigeration, so a little bit easier to administer,” he told AFP.

20 million doses of the Pfizer formula will be applied to these vaccines, as South Africa embarks on an ambitious target of inoculating about 40 million people—67% of the population—by the end of the year.

Via the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility and the AU, further doses would be guaranteed.

The nation has recently emerged from its second wave of infections, with regular cases falling from 20,000 at the beginning of January to just over 1,000 on Monday.

Close to 1.5 million infections were counted, of which more than 48,000 were fatal.

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