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South Africa to sell AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines bought from India to African Union countries

Mkhize spoke on Wednesday after he and President Cyril Ramaphosa joined 18 health care workers in Cape Town to receive the first Johnson & Johnson vaccines to boost confidence in the country's vaccination programme.

February 18, 2021 / 01:51 PM IST

South Africa will sell the one million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine it bought from India to its sister countries in the African Union, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has said.

Mkhize spoke on Wednesday after he and President Cyril Ramaphosa joined 18 health care workers in Cape Town to receive the first Johnson & Johnson vaccines to boost confidence in the country's vaccination programme.

These new vaccines replaced the old ones delivered by the Serum Institute of India after it was found that they offered limited efficacy against the new variant of coronavirus that has emerged in South Africa.

A million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were delivered to South Africa from India last month and a further 500,000 were due to be delivered this month to be used in the first phase of rolling it out to health care and other priority workers.

But South Africa decided against starting the first phase of its vaccine rollout using those vaccines after studies showed that it had limited efficacy against the new strain of the virus.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Explaining why South Africa had rushed to grab the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it became available, Mkhize commended the role of the Indian government in this.

"We knew that the whole world was actually scrambling for these vaccines, so we needed to make sure that we had them on our side. The fact that South Africa and India have a very good relationship would have actually assisted us in getting consideration, particularly seeing that the country was going through a bit of a difficult time, so I'm very grateful to the Indian government, the minister said.

"Although (the Serum Institute of India) is supposed to be a private company with some relationship with the government, at the same time we do understand that there has been lots of consultation with the government of India in preparation for those doses, Mkhize said.

He said the one million doses of the vaccine already delivered from India were still valid till the end of April, and have been offered to the countries in the African Union.

"When we were indicating that we might want to dispose of this, we have had inquiries that have come from no less than 25 countries who actually wanted access to those doses. South Africa will then get its returns. There will be no wasteful expenditure. We'll get our money back because it will be actually sold, Mkhize said, as he dismissed reports that the vaccines would be donated or sold at half price.

The vaccination campaign started as South Africa emerges from the peak of a second wave which saw stricter lockdown regulations introduced in December last year.

Despite a gradual reduction in infections and deaths, there were still 1,210 new COVID-19 cases and 219 deaths reported overnight.
Reuters
first published: Feb 18, 2021 01:47 pm

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