South Africa’s health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday the government may sell or swap doses of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine it may not need, as it scrambles to start inoculating its citizens with an alternative US shot next week.
South Africa paused the rollout of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University following data in a small clinical trial that showed it did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant of the coronavirus now dominant in the country.
One-million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, landed in the country last week, and another 500 000 are due to arrive in coming weeks. That’s enough to inoculate 750 000 people.
Mr. Mkhize told a news conference on Wednesday that the country would start vaccinating health workers with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the form of an “implementation study” with researchers some time next week.
He said he would wait for advice from scientists before proceeding with the possible sale or switch of the British shot.
The health minister said he would discuss a proposal to swap 500 000 doses from Serum that have not yet been delivered with COVAX, which has secured big supplies of the shot for distribution to poor nations.
The move is the latest twist in a saga that has engulfed the South African government this week as it scrambles to tame the fast-spreading variant. The country’s death toll is nearing 47,000 and infections have surpassed 1.47-million.