South Africa’s Second COVID Wave Passes Despite Variant – AstraZeneca Vaccines For Health Workers’ Arrive But At Higher Price Than EU Paid
Members of the South African National Defence Force patrol Bree Street taxi rank in central Johannesburg during the recent lockdown, whose restrictions were eased on Tuesday.

CAPE TOWN – Despite battling against a more infectious variant, South Africa seems to have ridden out its second and deadliest wave of COVID-19 infections.  And with new case counts declining, the government relaxed its most recent set of lockdown restrictions on Tuesday – reopening beaches, and easing night-time curfews and a ban on alcohol sales. . 

In another positive development,  the country’s first batch of vaccines – one million doses of the Oxford/ AstraZeneca vaccines produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII) – arrived on Monday  – but at a higher price than the European Union paid.  

South Africa has bought 1.5 million doses in total, paying more than double the price per dose, than the EU is paying for the same vaccine – despite the fact that clinical trials of this vaccine were run in South Africa.

The South African Department of Health has confirmed that it is paying $5.25 per dose -about double what the European Union is paying, whereas the price in India is about US$ 3 a dose for the vaccine, which is first to be administered to essential health workers. 

That fact has drawn the ire of medicines access advocates – who point to the higher price as evidence of the penalty being paid by lower income countries to access vital COVID-19 vaccines and treatments.

South African protest, Tuesday 2 February, calling on the US and EU to support a World Trade Organization ” TRIPS” waiver on patents and other IP related to all COVID-19 drugs, vaccines, diagnostics.


“South Africa is being vastly overcharged for the AstraZeneca/ Oxford vaccine,” charged Candice Sehoma and Claire Waterhouse of Médecins Sans Frontières in an oped published in News.24 on 30 January.   

According to that and other reports, including a Belgian minister who mistakenly tweeted a secret list of EU vaccine prices in mid-December –  the EU is paying as little as $US 2.16 per dose, ostensibly because the region also invested in the vaccine’s R&D .

Some 41 Million Vaccine Doses Secured 

Addressing the country on Monday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa announced that the country, which has a population of 60 million people, had secured:

  • 12 million vaccine doses from the WHO co-sponsored global COVAX vaccine facility (with 2 million doses to be delivered in March)
  • 9 million vaccine doses from Johnson & Johnson, with delivery in the second quarter. (The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will be manufactured in South Africa by Aspen.)
  • 20 million doses from Pfizer with deliveries in the second quarter

That would work out to enough vaccines for about 25 million people – considering that the Pfizer vaccine as well as most of the vaccines being supplied through COVAX require two doses.  

South Africa will also get vaccines through the African Union, which Ramaphosa has chaired for the past year, and hands over later this month to the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

“Through the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team of the African Union, we have to date secured 1 billion vaccines for the entire continent,” said Ramaphosa. “Seven hundred million of these will come from the global COVAX facility and 300 million have been facilitated by the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team.”

The South African-based mobile phone company, MTN, has donated $25 million to procure 7 million vaccines for African countries and other private companies are expected to follow, added Ramaphosa. 

Health Workers Top List Of Priority Vaccine Recipients 

All health workers in the public and private sectors will be vaccinated first – some 1.25 million people. This will be followed by “essential workers, people over 60 years, people with co-morbidities as well as those living in places such as nursing homes and hostels,” said Ramaphosa. Phase 3 will involve all adults, with the aim of vacinating 40 million people to achieve herd immunity.

The stabilizing of infection rates in the country is particularly welcome news since South Africa has led the continent in terms of infection rates. And with new variants also emerging it has been seen as a global bell-weather in the battle to contain virus mutations. . 

At the peak of South Africa’s second wave in early January, new daily infections peaked at over 21,000 cases. But cases have been reducing steadily over the past three weeks and by Monday, 2,548 new cases daily were recorded. Daily hospital admissions have dropped from 2,300 patients to 295 by the end of January. 

Officially, over 44,000 people have died of COVID-19, but the SA Medical Research Council reports at least 125,000 excess deaths between 3 May 2020 and 23 January 2021 when compared to the same time last year.

Heavy Cost of Lockdowns

Lockdown in Alexandra Township, Johannesburg, South Africa.

“I want to thank the millions of South Africans who had to endure restrictions on their movement and activities so that infections could be contained, and lives could be saved,” said Ramaphosa, in his remarks to the nation. 

“We are acutely aware that these restrictions have negatively affected businesses and threatened jobs in the hospitality, tourism and related industries. That is why we are determined that such restrictions should not continue any longer than is absolutely necessary to contain the pandemic and minimise the loss of life.”

From Tuesday, the nightly curfew has been shortened, parks and beaches were re-opened and a prohibition on the sale of alcohol has been eased. Bars are able to open with restricted hours and limited church services are also allowedd.

Over 2.2 million people lost their jobs between April and June 2020, according to StatsSA’s Quarterly Labour Force Survey and 52% of adults are currently unemployed.

Before the country’s first lockdown at the end of March 2020, over 18 million people were being supported by government grants, but by July last year almost 16 million more people had joined them, with most new grantees receiving a COVID-19 relief grants after losing their jobs, according to Media Hack.

Meanwhile, lockdowns cost South African school children around 40% of school time last, and less than 10% of households had internet access to enable online learning, according to Statistics SA. The Department of Basic Education estimates that over 320,000 school children may have dropped out of school last year. 

South African government schools are due to open on 15 February, about three weeks later than usual, although some private schools opened this week.

Image Credits: Peoples Health Movement, Flickr: IMF Photo/James Oatway, Flickr: IMF Photo/James Oatway.

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