Second batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines will arrive in South Africa this week: Mkhize

Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says that the next batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines will arrive in the country this weekend, taking the total doses in South Africa for phase one of the rollout to 160,000.

The first batch of vaccines saw 80,000 doses delivered on 16 February, with the same number of healthcare workers expected to be vaccinated two weeks after the drop. The official rollout started on 17 February.

Presenting to parliament on Tuesday (23 February), Mkhize said that the country is on course to complete the first 40,000 of these vaccinations by Wednesday (24 February) – one week later.

He added that the next batch of 80,000 doses of Johnson & Johnson vaccines will arrive this Saturday, 27 February 2021.

Commenting on the government’s vaccine strategy up until now, Mkhize said that South Africa was ‘never asleep’.

“We chose a strategy that was guided by science as we did not have the financial muscle to make unhedged bets. Our approach has paid off as we have been able to be nimble and precise around the tricky issue of the variant.

The health minister added that the procurement of the vaccines has been a complex process that required negotiations with multinational manufacturers of vaccines in the face of vaccine nationalism and protectionism.

He said this is primarily because the richer countries have utilised their financial muscle to procure vaccines on risk and far in excess of what they need.

Mkhize said it was for this reason that government opted to diversify its approach to vaccines procurement by engaging through various mechanisms – bilaterally through continuous engagements with individual manufacturers; multilaterally through the COVAX facility and regionally through the African Union’s Vaccine Financing and Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.

“We have signed Non-Disclosure Agreements with most of the leading manufacturers. This allows us to gain critical insight into their supply lines, their manufacturing plans and possible blockages in the manufacturing pipeline.

“It also allows us to pursue negotiations over prices, volumes and timelines for delivery,” Mkhize said.

“By pursuing vaccination under the Sisonke Protocol, which allowed us to use the Johnson & Johnson batches that had already been certified by SAHPRA under research conditions, we will be one of very few nations that undertakes a well-designed impact assessment as we rollout vaccines to our health care workers.”

Citing data from the Human Science Research Council, Mkhize said that 67% of citizens would either definitely take the vaccine or would probably take the vaccine and only 12% said they would not take the vaccine.

“This evidence assured us that the high level of vaccine hesitancy that was purported to threaten our ability to roll out vaccines was actually not true,” Mkhize said. “To date, there have been almost 500,000 registrations on the EVDS system.”

Mkhize also confirmed that South Africa will sell its Astra Zeneca Covid-19 stock to the African Union at cost price.

Read: International travel likely to reopen in 2022 – and it will be very different: airline CEO

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Second batch of Johnson & Johnson vaccines will arrive in South Africa this week: Mkhize