Africa’s viral epicentre, South Africa has confirmed that it is jettisoning plans to use the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine and will switch to a different one.
That announcement came a day after the vaccine, which is the leading choice for the developing world, was cleared for emergency use authorisation from the World Health Organization.
“Today, WHO gave emergency use listing to two versions of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, giving the green light for these vaccines to be rolled out globally through COVAX,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said to journalists.
COVAX is a global mechanism that aims to deliver coronavirus vaccines to poor countries. The coronavirus causes COVID-19 disease.
“…. WHO emergency use listing assesses and assures the quality, safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines, and is a prerequisite for vaccines to be distributed by COVAX. This listing was completed in just under four weeks from the time WHO received the full dossiers from the manufacturers,” he said.
‘Far from smooth, encouraging’
But South Africa’s experience with this promising vaccine has been far from smooth, or encouraging. The nation carries the bulk of the continent’s cases, with 1.49 million confirmed cases, and 48,000 deaths.
Earlier this month, South Africa received 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, at a price of just over $5 (R78) each. That is nearly three times the amount that EU members are paying for the same vaccine, according to information leaked by European officials.
When the vaccine arrived, on a rainy February day, South African officials were also startled to discover that this batch of vaccines — which has a six-month storage life — was set to expire in April. That discovery was followed by the announcement that a study conducted in South Africa found that this vaccine is not totally effective against the highly contagious variant prevalent in South Africa.
And so, last Tuesday, South African health officials announced that they would receive a shipment of 80,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and begin inoculating health workers on Wednesday. Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told local media that another 420,000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine would land in the next four weeks, along with another 20 million doses of the two-shot Pfizer vaccine.