South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has confirmed that the sale of one million doses of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine received from the Serum Institute of India last month has been concluded. The vaccines were sold to 14 African countries after South Africa suspended its planned usage to vaccinate healthcare workers when it was found to have limited efficacy against a new variant of the virus that became dominant in the country during a second wave of the pandemic towards the end of last year.
Instead, South Africa opted to use alternative vaccines to provide some level of immunity to thousands of healthcare workers, but concerns have been expressed over the slow rate of a planned three-phase vaccination programme amid delays in the delivery of vaccines.
"In the past weeks, the department has had to ensure that all member states identified by the African Union (AU) vaccine acquisition team as recipients of the vaccines are compliant and have obtained all regulatory approvals, permits and licenses to roll out the vaccines in their respective countries," Mkhize said in a statement released on Sunday.
Mkhize confirmed that the full purchase amount was received by the Department of Health on Monday last week. However, he did not disclose the amount.
"The AU and South African teams then ensured that all logistical arrangements are in place for the shipment of vaccines," the minister said.
The AU had found that the benefits of using the AstraZeneca vaccine, which has been suspended in a number of countries over safety fears, far outweighed the risks. The suspension came after reports of the vaccine causing blood clots in a few cases.
The first batch of vaccines was shipped to nine member states of the AU on Sunday, while the remaining will be collected by five other countries later this week.
(With PTI inputs)