By Alexander Winning
The AstraZeneca shots, produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII), are destined for the country’s sorely stretched frontline healthcare workers.
South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent, at more than 1.4 million cases and over 41,000 deaths to date, and has been battling a second wave of infections dominated by a more transmissible coronavirus variant called 501Y.V2 since late last year.
Mkhize said that after the 1 million doses arrive at the OR Tambo international airport in Johannesburg they would be subject to technical processes including quality assurance over a minimum of 10 days and a maximum of 14 days.
After that, they can be distributed to all provinces, Mkhize added. South Africa is due to receive a further 500,000 doses from the SII in February, also for its healthcare workers.
It later stands to receive around 12 million doses from the COVAX global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization, another 12 million from an African Union (AU) arrangement, and 9 million from Johnson & Johnson.
Mkhize spoke as South Africa’s main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, launched court action to force the government to release details of its vaccination plans.
Some scientists and healthcare workers have publicly criticised the government for not securing doses sooner or outlining detailed immunisation plans.
Medicines regulator SAHPRA said on Wednesday it had given fast-track approval to AstraZeneca’s vaccine for emergency use and that it was reviewing data on the shots of rival manufacturers Pfizer and J&J.
According to an estimate by the National Treasury, it could cost between 20 billion and 24 billion rand ($1.3 billion to $1.6 billion) to vaccinate the government’s target of around 40 million people, or two-thirds of the population.
In his capacity as AU chair, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa urged businesses on Wednesday to help fund the continent’s vaccine rollout. He also asked more countries to support an initiative to waive intellectual property rules affecting vaccine production.
(Editing by Mfuneko Toyana, Barbara Lewis and Mark Heinrich)