Serum Institute refunds South Africa for undelivered AstraZeneca doses

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Multiple countries in Europe have suspended the use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine. /Joel Saget/AFP
AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. /Joel Saget/AFP

The Serum Institute of India has fully refunded the cost of 500,000 doses of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine that South Africa did not want and had not yet been delivered, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Thursday.

South Africa halted plans to roll out the AstraZeneca shot in early February after a small trial showed it offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness caused by the dominant local coronavirus variant.

By then it had already paid for 1.5 million doses of the vaccine from the Serum Institute and taken delivery of the first 1 million.

It pivoted to administering Johnson & Johnson’s one-dose vaccine in a research study targeting up to 500,000 healthcare workers and sold the 1 million AstraZeneca doses to other African countries.

“The funds are in our bank account. This, therefore, closes the matter,” Mkhize said.

He added that J&J – whose vaccine was approved for use in South Africa last week – had confirmed that it would supply around 1.1 million doses this month. The government also expects to receive a first batch of the two-dose Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine this month, he said.

Between the J&J and Pfizer deals, South Africa has secured the supply of 51 million doses, enough to vaccinate roughly two-thirds of its 60 million people.

Mkhize said it aimed to inoculate up to 270,000 people a day at the peak of its campaign, in order to reach broad population immunity within a year.

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