Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has told Parliament that Johnson and Johnson is refusing to sign off the supply of a further 20 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine unless it receives a letter from the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) endorsing the local investment it has made in Aspen pharmaceuticals. 

Mkhize says this is a surprise move as such support is already part of the agreement and has been publicly stated. He says this is only one of the many hurdles they have had to deal with as they try to secure vaccines for the country.

The Health Department also had difficult negotiations with Pfizer which wanted to impose terms and conditions that would have threatened the country’s assets. 

Mkhize told Parliament that they have not disclosed these difficulties in the past because they were prioritising the acquisition of vaccines, also disclosing that Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer are charging the country 10 US dollars per dose of vaccine and no refund should there be a cancellation.

“The Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer agreements have non-refundability clauses to give members comfort. We did check with other jurisdictions if these terms have come through in their agreement and this appears to be the case,” says Mkhize.

SA has received full refund for AstraZeneca vaccine 

Mkhize reiterated that South Africa has received a full refund for the AstraZeneca vaccines after selling the batch of doses to the African Union (AU).

The rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine was halted due to a small trial showing the shot offered minimal protection against the coronavirus variant found in South Africa.

Mkhize says, “The cost of the vaccines from Pfizer and Johnson &Johnson are $10 per dose. The cost of the AstraZeneca vaccine was $5.35 per dose. With regards to the AstraZeneca refund, I can confirm that in March we received a payment for the full AU one million doses which we sold to them. The amount paid was $5 250000. These were the actual costs of the vaccines, minus the freight. Last week, we were then refunded by the Serum Institute of India on the 500 000 doses that were not delivered on the amount of US $2.675 million.”

He says the department is happy that it avoided what could have been viewed as a fruitless or wasteful expenditure.

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Meanwhile, Mkhize says government has secured an additional 10 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, meaning 30 million doses are to be delivered to South Africa.

The Pfizer vaccine which requires two shots means at least 15 million South Africans are expected to receive the vaccine.

Mkhize says Pfizer has also committed to supplying vaccines each week of the second quarter of the year.

He says the first batch is expected to arrive on May 3, 2021.

“We have received a formal acceptance and confirmation from Pfizer to increase their dosage from 20 million to 30 million. This means we can now guarantee the number of people to be vaccinated with Pfizer has now increased from 10 million to 15 million. I am also pleased that Pfizer has given us a weekly delivery schedule for Q2. On 3 May, we will receive 325 260 vaccines,” says Mkhize.

Yesterday, the Health Minister said the country is temporarily halting the use of the J&J vaccine due to cases of blood clotting reported in the US.

Government pauses Johnson&Johnson vaccine rollout:

Mkhize also called on the public not to panic following the announcement that the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson has been suspended in South Africa.

Mkhize says the issue will be cleared in a few day’s time, “It’s precautionary halting. It’s not like we are closing down on Johnson and Johnson. As soon as the information is made available we are quite certain that we should move on. It might take a couple of days to resume but at this point, we think it might be the best way to deal with it.”

SAMA on temporary suspension of  J&J COVID-19 vaccine rollout: