SA unlikely to get Pfizer vaccine before mid-2021 — Madhi

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The chances of SA getting a significant volume of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine before end June 2021 are “extremely unlikely”, said Wits University professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi in the Sunday Times.

He said the announcement that the vaccine was 90% effective was exciting because “other vaccines using the same target may also show similar efficacy”.

But the “most highly optimistic projection is that we’d be fortunate to get any by the end of the second quarter next year.”

“By the end of the year, they will only be able to manufacture 40-million units,” said Madhi, “Next year they’re set to make 1.3-billion, plus bear in mind that each recipient needs two doses.”

The US has procured 100-million doses and orders have been placed by the EU, the UK and Japan.The other problem is that the vaccine needs to be kept at -70°C, and SA has very few specialised facilities able to achieve such a low temperature.

“You won’t be able to just pitch up at a pharmacy or clinic for a shot,” said Madhi. “To set up more storage facilities of that nature would take a huge amount of time and expense.”

In his address to the nation on Wednesday, 11 October, President Cyril Ramaphosa said the government was working through the African Centre for Disease Control and Prevention to procure funding, with around R189bn and 750-million doses that would be needed.

A local company, Aspen Pharmacare, has entered into a “preliminary agreement” with Johnson & Johnson and “has the capacity to manufacture 300million doses of the candidate vaccine at its Nelson Mandela Bay plant”. A local biopharmaceutical company, Biovac, was also in “advanced discussion with an international vaccine manufacturer”, said Ramaphosa.


Full Sunday Times report (Subscription needed)


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