South Africa could get 20 million more Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses, minister says

In this photo illustration a Johnson & Johnson logo is seen in front of a medical syringe and a vial with coronavirus vaccine. Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
In this photo illustration, a Johnson & Johnson logo is seen in front of a medical syringe and a vial with coronavirus vaccine. (Photo Illustration by Pavlo Gonchar/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

The South African government’s agreement with Johnson & Johnson for 11 million COVID-19 vaccine doses includes an option for an additional 20 million doses depending on the availability of stock, its health minister said.

“The agreement has been signed off for 11million doses with an option for an additional 20m doses based on the availability of stock,” Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a written reply to a question from a lawmaker seen by Reuters on Friday.

The country kicked off its vaccination campaign last month with J&J’s single-dose vaccine after suspending plans to administer AstraZeneca’s double-dose vaccine.

A small trial showed the AstraZeneca shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the dominant local coronavirus variant.

The J&J shot is being given to up to 500,000 healthcare workers in a research study to further evaluate it in the field before a larger-scale rollout is expected to start in the second quarter. Local pharmaceutical company Aspen will be manufacturing J&J doses under licence.

Mkhize added in his written reply that the J&J vaccine was cost-effective for reasons including that it is effective against the 501Y.V2 variant first identified in South Africa late last year, it is stored at fridge temperature and it is a single-dose vaccine.