SA sells AstraZeneca doses to AU: it’s a win-win situation, says Zweli Mkhize
The million AstraZeneca doses procured by SA three weeks ago, which were later found to have limited efficacy against mild and moderate disease caused by the Covid-19 variant dominant in the country, have been sold to the African Union (AU).
The announcement was made by health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize in the National Assembly on Tuesday, where the Covid-19 rollout strategy was debated on an urgent basis after an application by the DA.
“In regards to the sale of the AstraZeneca stock to the AU, I can confirm that we are selling the doses [not donating]. Therefore there is no wasteful or fruitless expenditure,” said Mkhize.
“We have learnt from the AU that these will be distributed to about 20 countries in the continent, who will be in a position to begin protecting their front-line health-care workers. This is a win-win situation.
“We have further proposed that Johnson & Johnson (J&J) be preferentially deployed to the southern regions of Africa so that we can rapidly deal with the variant that is predominating in SA and some parts of SADC.
“Having said that, we join the WHO and scientific community in supporting the rollout of AstraZeneca, even in regions affected by variants.”
MPs expressed a range of concerns, including about the country's ability to store the vaccines at suitable temperatures, the financing of the vaccines, procurement processes, corruption, possible theft and an over-reliance on other countries.
Some hailed the rollout plan, while others heavily criticised it and suggested it was a crisis waiting to happen.
The minister announced that more than 23,059 health workers had been vaccinated as of Monday.
Mkhize said SA joined 87 countries globally in the next phase of the fight against Covid-19, saying all was on track to vaccinate 80,000 health workers within two weeks of the arrival of the first batch of J&J vaccines.
Mkhize and President Cyril Ramaphosa were among the first to benefit from the initial batch. Explaining this, the health minister said it was to allay fears concerning the vaccines.
“The decision to have some leaders take the vaccination first was not taken lightly and came as a result of many debates and consultations,” said Mkhize.
“Our communities clearly relayed a message to government that, to allay fear and anxiety of the J&J vaccine, it would give our health-care workers much confidence if the leaders took the vaccine.
“This has proven to be a motivating factor and none here can dispute that seeing our leaders take the vaccine has lifted the spirits of our people and inspired hope.
“We thank the leaders of the unions and professional bodies, who have led from the front. We encourage all leaders — traditional, religious, civil society and community leaders — to answer the call when the time comes and continue to inspire confidence in the vaccination programme.”
The second batch of J&J vaccines is expected arrive in the country on Saturday.