FILE PHOTO: South African Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize confirms the first case of coronavirus in South Africa in the Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, March 5, 2020. Reuters / Sumaya Hisham
CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – The South African government’s down payments to Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer for COVID-19 vaccines are not refundable under any circumstances, the health minister said on Wednesday, describing the condition as onerous.
Zweli Mkhize, speaking a day after the government suspended J & J’s vaccine rollout, citing a recommendation by the U.S. federal health authorities to discontinue use because of rare cases of blood clots.
The suspension is the latest setback to South Africa’s efforts to immunize its people.
Plans to start vaccinating with AstraZeneca’s vaccine in February have been abandoned as a small study showed the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the dominant local coronavirus variant.
Mkhize said in a virtual meeting with a parliamentary committee that Africa’s most industrialized economy would have to live up to the “difficult and sometimes unreasonable” demands of vaccine manufacturers during the negotiations.
“As a government, we are in a precarious position of having to choose between saving the lives of our citizens or putting the country’s assets in the hands of private companies,” he said. South Africa is paying $ 10 per dose for J&J and Pfizer vaccines, he added.
Reporting by Wendell Roelf and Alexander Winning; Arrangement by Tanisha Heiberg and Jason Neely