Wednesday, 14 April 2021 18:04

By Lehlohonolo Lehana.

Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, has announced that South Africa has secured an additional 10 million COVID-19 Pfizer vaccines.

Speaking in Parliament, Mkhize told the Health Portfolio Committee on Wednesday that this will increase the total number of the two-dose vaccine to 30 million.

"We can now guarantee that the number of people that will be vaccinated with Pfizer has increased from 10 to 15 million."

The Minister said the first batch of over 300 000 vials of these shots are expected to arrive in the country on 3 May 2021, while the rest of the consignment will be delivered weekly.

However, he said both the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson (J&J) agreements, which both cost US$10 per vaccine, have non-refundable clauses.

"The agreements state that down payments that have been made in advance by the department shall not be refundable by the manufacturer to us in any circumstances.

"This is another onerous term that we had to settle for,” the Minister told the committee.

He said government has received an email from J&J, stating that they will not sign off the 20 million doses until they receive a letter from the Trade, Industry and Competition Minister, expressing support for the local investment that they made in Aspen Pharmacare.

"We’ve been taken aback by this, as there are clauses in the agreement that express this support and acknowledge that this production will not just be limited to South Africa and the continent, but also targeted for the global market," said Mkhize.

Last month, President Cyril Ramaphosa and his Deputy, David Mabuza, visited the Aspen Pharmacare sterile manufacturing facility, where millions of vaccine shots are produced in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape.

"Our support for this production in our country was publicly made… J&J said if we don’t give them this letter, we’re making their global leadership nervous and to them, we’ve not shown our political will to support them," said Mkhize.

He acknowledged that government has had to navigate through difficult and sometimes unreasonable terms.

"I can also assure that we haven’t been sleeping on the job," Mkhize said.

Meanwhile, South Africa has suspended the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine as a precautionary measure.

This comes after the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) paused the rollout of the vaccine following reports of a rare clotting condition in six people out of 6.8 million doses administered.

However, a final decision on the suspension is expected in the next few days.

Addressing media on Tuesday night, Mkhize was confident that in an unlikely event that the J&J rollout is completely halted, the country would still be able to proceed with phase two of the vaccination programme.

"We are confident that the rollout of Johnson & Johnson will resume and so, with 30 million doses of Johnson & Johnson and 30 million doses of Pfizer secured, we now have enough doses to exceed the 40 million we were targeting this year," he said.