South Africa weighs options for AstraZeneca shots ahead of Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout

South Africa is now toying with the idea of selling or swapping its doses of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, but it would wait for advice from scientists as it prepares to roll out an alternative U.S. shot next week.

Speaking during a press briefing, Health minister Zweli Mkhize said that the country would start vaccinating health workers with Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine in the form of an “implementation study” with researchers sometime next week.

“Why not sell the AstraZeneca to other countries, well it’s an option, … we will consider it. First, our scientists will tell us what we do with it, can we use it within the time that’s available … before it expires,” Mkhize said.

South Africa paused the rollout of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University following data in a small clinical trial that showed it did not protect against mild to moderate illness from the 501Y.V2 variant of the coronavirus now dominant in the country.

One million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, landed in the country last week, and another 500,000 are due to arrive in the coming weeks. That’s enough to inoculate 750,000 people.

South Africa was also expecting to receive AstraZeneca shots via the COVAX global vaccine distribution scheme co-led by the World Health Organization and an African Union (AU) arrangement.