South Africa will give its doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to the African Union after scrapping their use due to efficacy concerns, the country’s health minister said Tuesday.
The country suspended its vaccine rollout — which was meant to begin with the AstraZeneca shots earlier month — after a study found the jab failed to prevent mild and moderate illness caused by a new variant discovered in South Africa.
“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 the country’s parliament.
“There will be no wasteful and fruitless expenditure,” he said.
The continent’s hardest-hit country by the pandemic had secured a million doses of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India and was set to receive an additional consignment of 500,000.
But South Africa has now settled for the yet-to-be-approved Johnson & Johnson vaccine, securing nine million doses including 80,000 expected to be delivered this week.
Vaccination will begin with healthcare workers as part of an implementation study, Mkhize said.
Those vaccines will be supplemented by 20 million doses of the Pfizer formula as South Africa embarks on an ambitious aim to inoculate around 40 million people — 67 percent of the population — by the end of the year.
More doses will be secured through the World Health Organization-backed Covax facility and the AU.
The country has recently emerged from its second wave of infections, seeing the number of daily cases drop from highs of 20,000 in early January to just over 1,000 on Monday.
It has counted close to 1.5 million infections of which more than 48,000 have been fatal.