Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has announced that South Africa has secured 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
In a statement issued on Thursday 7 January, Mkhize referred to his presentation on 3 January regarding the distribution of these vaccines.
“In our presentation, we also stated that as a country, we have estimated 1.25 million health care workers both from public and private to be prioritised,” he said.
“It is for this reason that today we announce that South Africa will be receiving 1,000,000 (one million) doses in January and 500,000 (five hundred thousand) doses in February from the SII.”
The vaccines are sourced from the Serum Institute of India (SII) following extensive negotiations.
“As recently as yesterday, our teams from the National Department of Health and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) were fine-tuning and aligning all the regulations processes to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays or regulatory impediments to activate this roll out,” Mkhize said.
“We are happy that the SII/ Astra Zeneca vaccine has already been approved by various regulators and is being rolled out in other countries.”
“Therefore, as part of expediting the regulatory process, SAHPRA is applying reliance on that regulatory work,” he added.
He added that the department will now be engaging all relevant stakeholders in order to ensure the efficient and effective roll-out of the vaccine for South African health workers.
“We urge the public to be patient with us as we continue to engage manufacturers,” he said. “Our commitment remains to save and protect the lives of our people.”
“We will not neglect our responsibility to protect lives and also fight this pandemic.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine is significantly cheaper than the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, although it is based on similar mechanics.
While the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are mRNA (messenger-RNA) vaccines that deliver encoded instructions for the body to manufacture antibodies against a key protein present in the coronavirus, the AstraZeneca vaccine encodes these instructions and stores them in double-stranded DNA.
These DNA instructions are then added to an adenovirus, which is designed to enter cells but cannot replicate inside them.
It is important to note that none of the COVID-19 vaccines under consideration by South Africa, including the AstraZeneca vaccine, include the coronavirus itself – only instructions for the body to manufacture antibodies against a protein present in the virus.
It remains uncertain whether these vaccines will be as effective against the recently-identified “South African variant” of the coronavirus.