S.Africa changes COVID vaccination rules to try to boost uptake

JOHANNESBURG, Feb 21 (Reuters) – South Africa has changed its COVID-19 vaccination rules in an effort to encourage more people to get jabs, health authorities said on Monday.

Inoculations have slowed and the country – which has recorded more than 98,000 deaths and more than 3.6 million positive COVID-19 in total in the pandemic – has ample vaccine stocks.

The government is shortening the interval between the first and second doses of the Pfizer (PFE.N) vaccine from 42 to 21 days and will allow people who have received two doses of Pfizer to get a booster dose three months after their second shot as opposed to six months previously.

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com


It will also offer the option of “mixing and matching” booster jabs, with adults who were given one dose of Johnson & Johnson’s (JNJ.N) (J&J) vaccine being offered either a J&J or Pfizer booster two months after their J&J shot. Adults who received two doses of Pfizer will be allowed J&J as well as Pfizer as a third dose.

“The decision regarding which vaccine to administer as a booster should be guided by vaccine availability,” the health department said in a statement.

South Africa has recorded the most coronavirus infections and deaths on the African continent.

It has so far fully vaccinated 28% of its roughly 60 million population, or 42% of its 40 million adults. That is a far greater percentage than many other African countries but well short of government targets.

Its vaccination campaign, using the J&J and Pfizer vaccines, got off to a slow start due to difficulties securing early supplies but more recently it has been dogged by hesitancy.


Also on Monday, a government adviser on COVID-19 treatments shed further light on a recommendation that the state should not buy Merck & Co’s (MRK.N) pill molnupiravir for now, despite the health regulator authorising its use. read more

Jeremy Nel, head of the infectious diseases division at the University of the Witwatersrand, told Reuters that the National Essential Medicines List Committee had given molnupiravir a “conditional no” on the basis that the cost would be substantial and benefits relatively small.

“It’s not a magic bullet that is going to solve COVID,” Nel said of molnupiravir.

Pfizer’s treatment pill Paxlovid was going to become available and had shown greater efficacy, Nel said. The committee is reviewing evidence on Paxlovid and should come up with a recommendation for government within weeks.

South Africa’s decision to steer away from buying molnupiravir comes after France cancelled its order following disappointing trial data. France hopes to get Paxlovid instead. read more

Register now for FREE unlimited access to Reuters.com


Reporting by Alexander Winning
Editing by Gareth Jones and Angus MacSwan

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.