Johannesburg, Jan 7 (PTI) South Africa will receive one million COVID-19 vaccines from the Pune-based Serum Institute of India this month, followed by an additional 500,000 doses in February, the health minister told Parliament on Thursday, amid a spike in coronavirus deaths and infections in the country.
Drug major AstraZeneca has partnered with the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, for the supply of the vaccine to the Indian government and also to a large number of low and middle-income countries.
The vaccine, developed with the University of Oxford, is made from a virus which is a weakened version of a common cold virus (adenovirus), that has been genetically changed so that it is impossible for it to grow in humans.
Addressing Parliament’s portfolio committee on health, health minister Zweli Mkhize said the imported vaccines would be used to vaccinate frontline healthcare workers.
'Today we announce that South Africa will be receiving the first one million doses of vaccine in January and another 500,000 in February from the Serum Institute of India,” Mkhize said.
The government had come under fire in the past week for allegedly having neglected to make payments on time to secure its part of the vaccines in the Covax consortium of almost 200 countries.
During a briefing on Monday, Mkhize had said the discussions were underway to secure earlier supplies by February as the Covax consignment was only expected to be delivered later in the year.
He said that there would be a priority acquisition of the vaccine by February for healthcare workers, but did not give further details.
Mkhize said he could mention the India supply at that stage because negotiations were still ongoing.
“At the time I could not disclose further details. I am pleased to announce that the Serum Institute of India has given us permission to make public an announcement and start engaging with the relevant stakeholders in preparation for the rollout (of the vaccine),” the minister told Parliament.
The announcement came amid rapidly increasing COVID-19 infections and deaths, with a record overnight high of almost 22,000 infections and 844 deaths as South Africa battles a second wave and a new variant of the virus.
Mkhize also allayed concerns that the vaccine to be supplied by India had not yet been approved by South African regulators.
“As recently as yesterday, our teams from the department of health as well as the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) were fine-tuning and aligning all the regulations and processes to ensure that there are no unnecessary delays or impediments to activate this rollout.
“We are all happy that the Serum Institute of India and the AstraZeneca vaccine have already been approved by various regulators and is being rolled out in other countries,” he said.
Addressing concerns that corruption might make the process costly, as had been the case in the provision of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) to health workers for months during the COVID-19 lockdown, Mkhize provided an assured there would be no corruption as the deal was being done directly between the government and the manufacturer, unlike the middlemen used in the PPE acquisitions who had exploited the situation.
Mkhize also provided details of how the rollout would occur. PTI FH MRJ MRJ