CAPE TOWN (REUTERS) – The South African government’s agreement with Johnson & Johnson (J&J) 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 11 million doses with an option for an additional 20m doses based on availability of stock,” Minister Zweli Mkhize said in a written reply to a question from a lawmaker seen by Reuters on Friday (March 12).

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 roll-out is expected to start in the second quarter of the year.

Local pharmaceutical company Aspen will be manufacturing J&J doses under licence.

Mr 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 is a single-dose vaccine.

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