FILE PHOTO: South African Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirms the first case of Coronavirus in South Africa at Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, March 5, 2020. Reuters/ Sumaya Hisham

The South African government’s downpayments to Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer for COVID-19 vaccines are not refundable under any circumstances, its health minister said on Wednesday, describing the condition as onerous.

Zweli Mkhize made the comments a day after the government suspended the rollout of J&J’s vaccine, citing a recommendation by U.S. federal health agencies to pause its use because of rare cases of blood clots.

The suspension is the latest setback for South Africa’s efforts to immunise its population.


It ditched plans to kick-start vaccinations with AstraZeneca’s vaccine in February because a small trial showed the shot offered minimal protection against mild to moderate illness from the dominant local coronavirus variant.

Mkhize told a virtual meeting with a parliamentary committee that Africa’s most industrialised economy had to navigate “difficult and sometimes unreasonable” demands from vaccine manufacturers during negotiations.

“As government we have found ourselves in a precarious position of having to choose between saving our citizens’ lives and risking putting the country’s assets into private companies’ hands,” he said. South Africa is paying $10 per dose for the J&J and Pfizer vaccines, he added.

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