South Africa plans to share AstraZeneca vaccine with AU countries

South Africa will offer its stock of coronavirus vaccines that were developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca to the African Union after they were found to have little impact on mild infections caused by a variant of the virus first identified in the country last year.

Reports that the shots, which were bought from the Serum Institute of India, had expired and will be returned to India were untrue, and no money will be wasted, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told lawmakers in Cape Town on Tuesday.

“I can also say that we have actually secured enough doses to vaccinate all the people who will need to be vaccinated in South Africa,” Mkhize said.

Anban Pillay, deputy director-general at the Department of Health, said South Africa planned to share the 1 million AstraZeneca doses it received at the start of the month from the Serum Institute of India via the African Union (AU).

“The doses are going to be shared with countries on the continent … via the AU,” Pillay said, adding that the government would look to recover money spent on the AstraZeneca vaccine but was still finalising how to do that.

The AU’s disease control body said last week it was not “walking away” from AstraZeneca’s vaccine but would target its use in countries that have not reported cases of the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified in South Africa late last year.

On Tuesday, Zimbabwe reported that genome sequencing – a process of looking into an organism’s DNA – had shown that there is now a “61% dominance of the new South African variant” in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe begins its own vaccinations programme on Thursday, Cabinet said in a statement.

South Africa has pivoted to using shots developed by Johnson & Johnson for its initial inoculations, with more than 380,000 health-care workers having registered to receive them. The government aims to vaccinate about two-thirds of the population of 60 million people to achieve herd immunity.

The first vaccines will be issued as part of a study, allowing normal regulatory approvals to be bypassed.

“We have identified 20 vaccination centers in all nine provinces to inoculate 80,000 health-care workers over the next two weeks,” Mkhize said.