WHO backs AstraZeneca vaccine, so SA's sale is on

21 March 2021 - 00:00
The safety panel of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday that data from the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine did not point to any overall increase in clotting.
The safety panel of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday that data from the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine did not point to any overall increase in clotting.
Image: Joe Giddens/Pool via Reuters

With negotiations to sell 1-million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to 20 AU countries finally concluded, the government said it was ready to begin the handover.

"Because the negotiations were amicable, we are confident that should a compelling need arise to revisit the decisions made, both parties will be willing to engage," said health department spokesperson Popo Maja.

Health department deputy director-general Anban Pillay previously denied the sale had hit a snag because of technical issues.

Since the sale was announced last month, some studies said the vaccine was ineffective against mild and moderate infections of the 501Y.V2 virus variant dominant in SA.

The doses, due to expire on April 30, were bought from the Serum Institute of India for R75m. The health department said this week that after discussion with the institute, the expiry date had been extended to July.

The vaccines are being stored at the Biovac Institute.

There have been calls for the government to roll out the vaccine on a voluntary basis for high-risk people. However, the government decided to proceed with the sale. Maja said the government had been advised to do so by the ministerial advisory committee.

This week a dozen European countries reportedly halted their AstraZeneca rollout amid fears of blood-clotting.

However, Reuters reported that the safety panel of the World Health Organisation (WHO) said on Friday that data from the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine did not point to any overall increase in clotting.

The European countries have since resumed the rollout.

Maja said that because the WHO had indicated there was no relationship between the vaccine and blood clots, the handover would go ahead.

He said the department has always cautioned about the absoluteness of promises it might have made to the public because of the fluid nature of Covid-19 vaccines around the world.

He said the Serum Institute of India authorised the sale of vaccines to a list of 20 countries in the AU. Maja did not name the countries.

It is also not yet clear how the vaccines will be transported because the process is being handled by the AU.

"This will not be a long process since the AU team has been working with Biovac for shipment to each country.

The health department previously denied the sale had hit a snag because of technical issues

"The expiry date initially identified for the first batches supplied to South Africa was based on the shortest period, given that the company did not at the time have longer-term data on the stability of the product.

"They now have additional data on the stability of the vaccine and have found that the expiry date can now be extended to nine months after manufacture.

"The data was presented to Sahpra [the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority] by the Serum Institute, which Sahpra has approved, so the expiry date of the vaccines is now July 2021," said Maja.


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