Why South Africa wants to auction 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses

South Africa has concluded the sale of a million AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine doses to other members of the African Union, considering the supply was ‘surplus to requirements’.

Fewer than 200,000 people in South Africa have been vaccinated against Covid-19 so far, but the country’s health ministry confirmed on Sunday that its reserves of one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine are to leave the country.

A statement by health minister Zweli Mkhize relayed on social media said “all member states identified by the AU vaccines acquisition teams as recipients of the vaccines were compliant and had obtained all regulatory approvals, permits and licences to roll out the vaccines in their respective countries.

“The minister can confirm that the full purchase amount was received by the department on Monday last week,” the statement read. It made no mention of prices and did not name the countries that had purchased the vaccines.

Why the sale?

South Africa received a batch of 1 million AstraZeneca doses from the Serum Institute of India in early February and its much vaunted vaccination campaign was set to steam ahead.

But a small trial suggesting the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the 501Y.V2 Covid variant dominant in the country, put the brakes on the country’s mass inoculation programme.

Although further studies suggest that AZ still gives higher protection against the threat of hospitalisation and death, the health department was not convinced. It paused the AstraZeneca programme and began inoculating healthcare workers with the US-manufactured Johnson & Johnson shots in a research study.

Government officials have previous said the country has secured 9 million J&J single-dose shots.

In the South African arm of a large global trial, the J&J vaccine proved to be 89 percent effective at preventing severe disease and 57 percent effective against moderate to severe disease. About 95 percent of infections in the local study were due to the South African variant.

Credit: RFI

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