South Africa in African Union talks on COVID-19 shots for 10 million people

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa is negotiating with an African Union (AU) platform to buy COVID-19 vaccines for at least 10 million of its people, a top health official said on Friday.

The country was provisionally allocated 12 million doses developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in an AU vaccine plan, but it was unclear how many vaccines it would seek to buy after it halted plans to use the AstraZeneca shot.

Sandile Buthelezi, Department of Health director-general, did not say which vaccines the country wanted to buy via the AU in comments before a parliamentary committee.

South Africa has reported the most infections and deaths on the African continent, and suffered a severe second wave of cases driven by a more contagious variant of the novel coronavirus.

In common with other African countries, it has lagged wealthier parts of the world in rolling out immunisations. So far, it has administered some 90,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson’s shot in a research study targeting healthcare workers.

The government put AstraZeneca vaccinations on hold last month because a small local trial showed the British drugmaker’s vaccine offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the 501Y.V2 virus variant.

Buthelezi also said on Friday that South Africa was trying to reach an agreement with the AU, Afreximbank and the Serum Institute of India to sell AstraZeneca vaccine doses it had ordered from Serum to about 18 other African countries.

Explaining why it had not yet received doses from the COVAX vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, Buthelezi said: “Their allocation was heavily biased towards AstraZeneca, … then we told them ‘hold on guys, we can’t take the AstraZeneca as is, for now let’s consider other vaccines either the Pfizer or the Johnson & Johnson,’ so hence the delay.”

South Africa is expecting to receive 117,000 Pfizer doses this month via COVAX, he added.

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