South Africa has signed an agreement with Pfizer Inc for 20m dual-shot COVID-19 vaccine doses, TimesLIVE reports a government official said, boosting plans to start mass vaccinations from April.
The deal is another fillip for the country worst hit by COVID-19 infections in Africa, as it adds to the 31m single-shot doses from Johnson & Johnson (J&J) which the government approved last Thursday.
TimesLIVE reports that, according to deputy director-general at the Health Department, Anban Pillay, the first batch from Pfizer is expected to arrive late in April, but he did not comment on the price. The government is buying the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine for $10 (about R145) per dose.
The report says after the Pfizer deal, the government will have enough to vaccinate roughly 41m people out of its total population of 60m.
The country has also been allocated 12m shots under the World Health Organisation’s COVAX scheme and is likely to get doses for 10m people from the African Union’s Avatt initiative.
TimesLIVE reports that it is not clear whether the COVAX and Avatt doses will be a single shot, dual shot or a mix of both.
“With the Johnson & Johnson agreement also fully concluded, this sets the stage for a significant and rapid expansion of our vaccination programme,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize is quoted in TimesLIVE as saying.
Mkhize also confirmed that the final tranche of 200,000 Johnson & Johnson doses for the Sisonke Protocol – the programme under which health workers are being vaccinated – was expected to arrive in South Africa on 19 April.
“These doses will take us to the last mile of the Sisonke Protocol, which is set to become one of the most seminal studies in the history of the pandemic,” said the minister.
“Similarly, we will also embark on an implementation study with a limited number of Pfizer doses used among health-care workers. This will be yet another valuable contribution to the science of mass vaccination.”
The signing comes as a new but small study showed that the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine was 100% effective against cases of the B.1.351 variant first identified in South Africa. BusinessLIVE reports that in larger global trials it has been found to be 91% effective in preventing disease.
The report says the signing follows a long and difficult negotiation with Pfizer. The Treasury is believed to have balked at some of the contractual obligations, particularly about liability provisions. The contracts are not for public dissemination as governments are required to sign non-disclosure agreements.
Pillay, who confirmed the deal, said that the negotiation process had slowed the final signing.
BusinessLIVE reports that the power of pharmaceutical companies in negotiating vaccine supply contracts is a growing cause of concern globally as smaller and poorer countries get left out. Pharmaceutical companies typically do not provide exact delivery dates to which they can be held.
"Vaccine manufacturers are unable to give an exact date but rather a period for delivery," said Pillay. "Our agreements are based on volumes that will be delivered in each quarter of the year, April to June and so on.
The vaccine has emergency approval in the US and has been licensed in South Africa under a section 21 permit by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
The J&J vaccine has received conditional approval for use in South Africa.
Meanwhile, the Democratic Alliance (DA) wants the SA Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) urgently to investigate the government’s vaccine rollout strategy, shadow minister of health Siviwe Gwarube says. Gwarube, who described the slow pace of the vaccine rollout as “criminal”, said South Africans cannot continue hoping the timeline, which keeps being adjusted for “impossible” delays, will be met because nothing has gone according to the government’s plan to date.
“The process has been marred by breathtaking tardiness,” she said.
The country began its vaccine rollout seven weeks ago with the Johnson & Johnson Sisonke trial, which was meant to overlap with phase one of the rollout to cover the target of 1.2m health-care workers.
To date, just more than 269,000 health-care workers have been vaccinated – a fraction of the target. The trial alone was meant to cover 500,000 health-care workers, but has been slow without a jab administered in the past four days.
Gwarube said that while Mkhize “continuously blames” external and global factors for the throttled supply of the vaccine, South Africa’s acquisition was slow “as we receive drips and drabs of supply, thus the rollout is pitiful”.
“For the past few months South Africans have been pleaded with to be patient while misleading words such as ‘secured doses’ have been bandied about to create a false sense of productivity by the government.
“All this is happening while there is a real threat of a third wave of COVID-19 infections exacerbated by the winter season,” she said.
Gwarube said the DA would approach the commission to launch an investigation into the vaccination process thus far.