Days after suspending plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday that South Africa would use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine during its planned first phase of a vaccination campaign targeting healthcare workers.South Africa’s switch to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has not yet received approval from the government, comes 10 days after Pretoria received its first one million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from India amid high hopes that the country was on its way to slowing down the Covid-19 pandemic now in its second wave made worse by a mutant variant.
South Africa announced on Sunday that it was ditching the AstraZeneca vaccine after research showed that it was less effective against a more potent COVID-19 variant first detected in the country last November.
However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine proved to be effective against the mutant variant in trials, Mkhize said, adding that the government was in the process of getting the necessary approvals for use locally.
During its initial announcement, Johnson & Johnson said its single dose vaccine had a 57% efficacy against the coronavirus, but an 85% efficacy against the mutant virus – a quality that might have led the South Africans to dump AstraZeneca vaccines, according to observers.
Apart from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Mkhize said the government had also secured the Pfizer vaccine to be used during the first phase rollout.
Talks with other Covid-19 vaccines manufacturers were underway to increase South Africa’s vaccine stocks, he added.
He said the government was waiting for the complete schedule of the distribution of the various vaccines and hoped that the negotiations would be wrapped up by next week.
Mkhize, however, did not mention what would happen to the one million AstraZeneca vaccines already in the country’s medical stocks.