UPDATE 5-S.Africa plans to share AstraZeneca vaccine, first J&J shots expected

·3 min read

* S.Africa paused AstraZeneca rollout after trial results

* Data showed vaccine less effective against variant

* Plans to share doses via African Union, recover money

* Government confirms J&J shots to arrive Tues evening

* Minister says shots secured for all those who need it(Updates with first vaccine delivery)

By Alexander Winning and Wendell Roelf

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 16 (Reuters) - South Africa plans to share1 million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses with otherAfrican countries, a senior official said, as the governmentconfirmed the first shots from rival Johnson & Johnsonwould arrive on Tuesday evening.

The country paused the rollout of AstraZeneca doses thismonth, after preliminary trial data showed they offered minimalprotection against mild to moderate illness from the country'sdominant coronavirus variant.

It has been consulting scientists about what to do with theAstraZeneca vaccine, switching to a plan to start inoculatinghealthcare workers with J&J's alternative in a research study.The South African Medical Association (SAMA) said if the firstshots arrived on Tuesday as expected, then vaccinations couldstart on Wednesday.

Eighty thousand J&J shots are expected initially, and up to500,000 health workers could be immunised in total in the study.

SAMA chairwoman Angelique Coetzee said vaccinations wouldhappen at hospitals in each of the country's nine provinces.Roughly two-thirds of the doses would go to public-sector healthworkers, and one-third to those in the private sector.

The government's main communication agency, GCIS, said thefirst delivery of vaccine would arrive at the OR TamboInternational Airport in the economic hub of Gauteng province.

"The consignment will be moved to a secure facility ...before being distributed overnight to the various vaccinecentres in all provinces," the Government Communication andInformation System said in a statement.

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

"The doses are going to be shared with countries on thecontinent ... via the AU," Pillay told Reuters, adding that thegovernment would look to recover money spent on the AstraZenecavaccine but was still finalising how to do that.

He said it was not true that South Africa had asked theSerum Institute to take back the doses, as reported by Indiannewspaper The Economic Times.

Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said some African countries hadalready expressed an interest in acquiring South Africa'sAstraZeneca doses. He said vaccinations were due to begin thisweek and that President Cyril Ramaphosa would announce the dateand time of the first shot.

"I can also say that we have actually secured enough dosesto vaccinate all the people who will need to be vaccinated inSouth Africa," Mkhize told lawmakers, without saying how hearrived at that calculation.

The government had initially planned to vaccinate 40 millionpeople, or two-thirds of the population, to achieve some levelof herd immunity, but it is not clear whether that target stillstands.

CONTAGIOUS VARIANT

The AU's disease control body said last week it was not"walking away" from AstraZeneca's vaccine but would target itsuse in countries that have not reported cases of the morecontagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified in South Africa latelast year.

The AU said six countries other than South Africa hadconfirmed the variant was circulating, but there are concerns ithas spread elsewhere.

AstraZeneca says it believes its two-dose vaccine protectsagainst severe COVID-19 and that it has started adapting it tobe more effective against the 501Y.V2 variant.

J&J's vaccine is administered in a single shot, an advantagegiven how complex a logistical exercise the mass vaccinationcampaign will be.

The health ministry said on Tuesday that the manufacturersof Russia's Sputnik V vaccine had submitted documentation tolocal medicines regulator SAHPRA for registration.

It added that scientists were conducting analyses on SputnikV, following concerns about the effects of its Ad5 component oncommunities with a high prevalence of HIV.

South Africa has one of the highest HIV burdens globally.

SAHPRA did not immediately respond to a request for comment.(Reporting by Alexander Winning in Johannesburg and WendellRoelf in Cape TownEditing by Nick Macfie, William Maclean)

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