‘Bots keeps faith with AstraZeneca’

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Gaborone – Despite South Africa experiencing problems with the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, including asking the Indian manufacturer to take back around one million doses, authorities in Botswana say they are open to rolling out the drug as part of its COVID-19 control strategy.

The vaccine is said to be largely ineffective against a variant of COVID-19 discovered by South African scientists.

Health authorities say the vaccine they took delivery of expires on April 30, 2021. According to media reports, South Africa’s Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has said the country will hand over its consignment of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine to the AU to quickly distribute amongst countries that want it.

Botswana this week said it had no qualms in accepting the vaccine, pointing out that it would simply have to ensure it was used before it expired.

Minister of Health Dr Edwin Dikoloti told Parliament this week that Botswana would not be “walking away” from AstraZeneca, emphasising that, “Yes we will go ahead with plans to use AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine.”

Dr Dikoloti said the Health Ministry was alive to concerns from some quarters about the efficacy of the vaccine against the virus vaccine discovered by South African experts.

He said Botswana – like other countries – would stand guided by recommendations from the World Health Organisation, the Strategic Advisory Group of Experts and the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), among other researchers.

He said Botswana had already made payments amounting to US$10 million for various vaccines such from Pfyzer-BioNtech, Novavax, Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca, also revealing that the country could expect delivery of the first batches within a month.

The minister said exact timelines would be made public in due course, as considerations such as global demand and supply economics had to be factored in.

The Africa CDC and WHO have given the AstraZeneca vaccine the greenlight.

Africa CDC director Dr John Nkengasong told a virtual conference that, “For now our strategy is not to throw away our 100 million doses but rather target countries that … have not reported cases of the specific variant (to which the vaccine is relatively ineffective).”

WHO regional director for Africa Dr Matshidiso Moeti said the organisation was working with some African countries on how to use the vaccine, including those that had reported cases of the COVID-19 variant. 

African countries that have confirmed cases of the variant are Botswana, the Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

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