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Covid-19: South Africa Mulls Swapping AstraZeneca Vaccine

The move by South Africa to trade the AstraZeneca jab comes as the government tries to tame the fast-spreading variant. As of Wednesday, infections had surpassed 1.47 million with nearly 47,000 coronavirus-related deaths.”

South Africa may sell doses of Covid-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University that it may not need or swap for a different vaccine, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Wednesday.

The African nation received one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, last week. Another 500,000 are due to arrive in the coming weeks, enough to inoculate 750,000 people.

The government was to receive the shots through the Covax global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organisation, an African Union arrangement and international vaccines alliance Gavi.

But the rollout of the Astra vaccine was halted following a small clinical trial that showed the jab offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant dominant in the country. The government is now scrambling to start inoculating its citizens with an alternative shot from America’s Johnson and Johnson next week.

Results from J&J’s study released two weeks ago showed that its shot was 57% effective in South Africa, and even less effective against the variant of the virus spreading across the country.

Also Read: Oil Prices Get Boost from New Novavax & J&J Vaccines

Mkhize revealed the country would start vaccinating health workers with J&J’s vaccine in the form of an “implementation study” with researchers but would wait for advice from scientists before going ahead with the possible sale or switch of the British jab.

“Why not sell the AstraZeneca to other countries? Well, it’s an option … we will consider it. First, our scientists will tell us what we do with it. Can we use it within the time that’s available … before it expires?” Mkhize said. 

There is no indication of how a sale or swap would work. But Mkhize while addressing lawmakers said the government wanted to see whether it could swap AstraZeneca shots it had ordered from Serum for doses of a different vaccine available under Covax.

Also Read: AstraZeneca Covid Vaccine has Less Efficacy but More Advantages over Pfizer, Moderna Shots

“If not (the vaccine can be used before expiry), can we swap it with anyone else, because we’ve discussed it with Covax and with AVATT (the AU’s vaccine task team), so we will see what we will do.” This is despite the fact that a WHO panel recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine to be deployed widely, including in countries where the 501Y.V2 variant could reduce its efficacy. AstraZeneca’s vaccine was also considered critical for poor nations because it is cheap and easy to store. 

The move by South Africa comes as the government tries to tame the fast-spreading variant. As of Wednesday, infections had surpassed 1.47 million with nearly 47,000 coronavirus-related deaths.

The government has secured doses from Pfizer for health workers and the first batch of J&J doses could arrive next week, Mkhize said, adding that a deal to secure 9 million single-dose shots could be finalised soon. Meanwhile, negotiations with Moderna, China’s Sinopharm, and Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine are ongoing.

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