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DoH is stuck with high hopes and scores of millions of COVID-19 doses

Despite its COVID-19 vaccination stalled and barely half of South Africans having received at least one shot, the Department of Health won’t budge on its ambitious target of reaching 70% of adults, writes MedicalBrief. Meanwhile, on top of 29m doses in stock – 9m expiring by end of January 2023 – the DoH may be saddled with another 21.1m doses.

SA has a considerable stockpile of COVID-19 vaccinations because it ordered enough doses to vaccinate the entire adult population. To date, 20.4m adults out of 40.4m adults had received at least one dose. Health officials are now administering fewer than 30,000 doses a week compared with a seven-day peak of 417,000 in August 2021, according to the government’s Covid-19 vaccine tracker.

Of the DoH stock, 8.6m Pfizer vaccines face expiry between December 2022 and January 2023. The 10m Johnson & Johnson vaccines in stock have a longer shelf life, and will expire only between June and September next year.

The DoH said it owed R71m to the international vaccine financing vehicle Covax, for 10m undelivered Pfizer doses, reports EWN. DoH Deputy Director-General Nicholas Crisp said another 11.4m doses of the J&J vaccine doses were also on the way.

Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla told Parliament’s Portfolio Committee on Health that vaccination uptake reduced significantly after the height of the Delta variant. “When there was a high mortality rate, we had good uptake, but as soon as severity went down, the uptake slowed," he said.

Despite low uptake and high stock levels, the DoH told MPs that it is not budging from its target of vaccinating 70% of adults with at least one jab.

Considering all options

“We have been considering all plausible options to mitigate this delivery for some months now by delaying deliveries and for trying to find donations,” Crisp told the committee. ‘Nobody around the world is really buying vaccines at the moment so it’s very difficult to sell them elsewhere.”

The government has negotiated a reduction in its obligations Covax, Crisp is reported on BusinessLIVE telling the committee. However, it has failed to convince Pfizer and J&J to scale back its orders. The value of the contracts with Pfizer and J&J remains secret due to the non-disclosure agreements the government was required to sign with them.

Private-sector vaccination sites have so far submitted claims running to R2bn for shots administered to people who did not belong to medical schemes, said Crisp. R992m had been paid by the end of August and R1.08bn was due by the end of September. Medical schemes has to date paid the government R1.3bn for members who had received their shots at public health facilities.

Expiry extensions mooted

News24 reports that  the DoH says there is an ongoing review on the stability of the Pfizer vaccines before their expiration in December and January next year, with Crisp adding that the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) might extend the expiration dates on a rolling three-month basis, depending on the lab test results, reports.

Crisp said a batch of 3.9 million vaccines would expire on 31 December and another 4.7 million a month later on 31 January.

Responding to questions from members of the Health Portfolio Committee alongside Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla, Crisp said the department had not destroyed any vaccines since procuring the first batch in 2020.

“The only vaccines that get destroyed are half-used or unused vials in the periphery at sites. Otherwise, no vaccines have been destroyed yet,” he said.

Crisp said while the DoH had suspended the reporting of daily cases due to decreasing infection rates, the department would reimpose similar restrictions in case of an uptick in infections.


EWN article – Health department stuck with millions of unused COVID vaccines (Open access)


News24 article – ‘Review of stability of millions of Pfizer vaccines set to expire under way’ – health department (Open access)


Business Day article – Pfizer and J&J stand firm as Covax agrees to trim SA’s contract for Covid-19 shots (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Millions of unused, expired COVID vaccines to be destroyed, says Phaahla


Destroying millions of COVID jabs proof of mistakes and mismanagement


With 7m doses set to expire, DOH tries to boost sluggish vaccination campaign


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