SA seeks 20m J&J shots, offered supply of Russian Sputnik V vaccine

By Paul Vecchiatto, Antony Sguazzin and Janice Kew

(Bloomberg) – South Africa is in talks with Johnson & Johnson to buy an additional 20 million doses of the company’s Covid-19 vaccine and has been offered supplies of Russia’s Sputnik V shot, according to a presentation the health ministry made to the cabinet.

The document, which was seen by Bloomberg, also reveals that Cape Town-based financial services company Sygnia was in talks with the Serum Institute of India about developing a new vaccine, conducting a trial and securing 10 million doses of it for South Africa. The presentation was dated Jan. 28 and it couldn’t be confirmed whether any of the details have since changed.

South Africa has lagged in the global race to begin dispensing vaccines to avoid further deaths and economic disruption, and intended dispensing its first shots this month.

Those plans encountered a setback when the results of a small study released this week indicated the shots developed by AstraZeneca Plc and the University of Oxford has little impact on mild infections with a variant of the virus first identified in South Africa. It made no finding on how severe cases of the disease were impacted.J&J last week said its single-shot vaccine prevented 57% of mild cases from the variant and all severe cases.

There is an “opportunity to access an additional 20 million doses” from J&J, the health department said in the presentation. The department is “awaiting J&J feedback.”

J&J said it is in “advanced discussions” with the South African government about potential additional collaborations to combat Covid-19 in the country and it hoped to be able to share more details in coming days.

“We are committed to addressing the needs of the most vulnerable and at-risk populations worldwide and to supporting further clinical understanding of the variants to help stop their spread,” the company said in an emailed response to questions. “We recognise the importance of ensuring that people in Africa have timely access to our vaccine. We have pledged to provide up to500 million vaccine doses to lower-income countries, with delivery to begin in mid-2021.”

Vaccine rollout

The health ministry and the National Treasury form part of an inter-ministerial committee that’s chaired by Deputy President David Mabuza, and is overseeing the vaccine rollout, said presidency spokesman Tyrone Seale. The details outlined in the presentation to cabinet will be taken into account, he said.

The Department of Health, Sygnia and the Serum Institute didn’t immediately respond to e-mailed questions.

The presentation also said Pharma-Q, a South African company that makes pharmaceutical products under contract, indicated the immediate availability of 8 million doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine for South Africa, while Lamar International Ltd., a Cape Town-based pharmaceutical company, said it could make 15 million available.

The two companies didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Pfizer shots

South Africa has already agreed to buy 9 million doses of J&J’s vaccine at $10 each, the department said. Twenty million doses of a shot produced by Pfizer and BioNTech SE have been secured for $10 a dose, the department said, confirming an earlier report by Bloomberg.

Almost all the Pfizer shots will arrive in the second half of the year, with a maximum of 1 million doses available by the end of March. The 9 million J&J doses that have already been secured are expected to be delivered between June and January next year.

China National Biotec Group, known as Sinopharm, has proposed a cost of $20 a dose, the department said. No detail was given on the availability of its vaccine.

The department also said 10 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were available from a company called NWT Distribution Services and that R Pharma, a Russian company, was seeking a South African partner to coordinate supply of vaccines made under contract for AstraZeneca. The presentation was made before the new findings on the effectiveness of the vaccine against the new strain were published.

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