South Africa has asked Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer to delay delivery of COVID vaccines as it has too much stock now, health ministry officials said, as vaccine hesitancy continues to slow the immunisation campaign.
About 35% of South Africans are fully vaccinated, still only half the government’s target of 70% by year end. In the past 15 days, an average of 106 000 doses a day have been administered. At the beginning of the year, the programme had been beset by a lack of doses for a wide range of reasons, from AstraZeneca’s ineffectiveness against the Beta variant to overseas production delays.
Deputy director-general of the Health Department, Nicholas Crisp, told Reuters that South Africa had 16.8 million doses in stock and said that deliveries had been deferred.
A spokesman for the Health Ministry said: “We have 158 days’ stock in the country at current use. We have deferred some deliveries.”
Stavros Nicolaou, chief executive of Aspen Pharmacare, which is packaging 25 million doses a month of J&J vaccines in South Africa, said most of the vaccines bound for South Africa would now be diverted to the rest of Africa, and deliveries would likely be deferred until the first quarter of next year.
A Pfizer spokesperson said: “We remain adaptable to individual country’s vaccine requirements whilst continuing to meet our quarterly commitments as per the South Africa supply agreement.”
The government has been trying to boost the rate of daily administered doses, such as with R100 ‘Vooma vouchers’ for registering to vaccinate, but even these have failed to sufficiently stoke uptake.
“There is a fair amount of apathy and hesitancy,” said Wits University’s Professor Shabir Madhi.
On Twitter, he further suggested using the excess stock for booster shots, which would “provide all single dose JJ adult recipients a JJ or Pfizer boost, and those > 65 or immunosuppressive conditions an additional Pfizer dose if received 2 doses > 5 months ago.”
Source: U.S. News