/ 8 February 2021

Second doses of AstraZeneca vaccine are still on their way to South Africa

Mobile Covid 19 Testing As South Africa Struggles For Vaccines
Medical workers wait for passengers inside a South Africa Health Department mobile coronavirus testing unit at O.R Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg, South Africa. Photographer: Guillem Sartorio/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Early data shows the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine offers only minimal protection against the new Covid-19 variant identified in South Africa last year. However, this will not prevent the rollout of the one million vaccines South Africa received last week. 

A study conducted by the University of Witwatersrand, which is not yet peer-reviewed, shows a “two-dose regimen of the vaccine provides minimal protection against mild-

 to moderate Covid-19 infection from the coronavirus variant first identified [in]  mid-November last year”.

However, the vaccine did show high efficacy against the original coronavirus variants in South Africa.

But “90% of all new infections in South Africa are from the more transmissible 501Y.V2, which were discovered last year,” said Shabir Madhi, chief investigator on the trial in South Africa, during a media briefing prompted by the announcement of the study. 

The department of health and a panel of experts briefed the media on Sunday evening.

Asking whether we should take the risk of not vaccinating high-risk groups, Madhi said, “It will be irresponsible to discard the [one] million vaccines that are available. We might want to reframe our target group for vaccination in the next few weeks.”

Where does it leave us?

  • Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize confirmed that the vaccination rollout for healthcare workers, which is due to start in the next few weeks, will proceed — but that it will be adjusted. 
  • Early data shows that the mutations in the virus seen in South Africa will allow ongoing transmission of the virus in vaccinated populations. 
  • But vaccines may continue to ease the toll on healthcare systems by preventing severe disease.
  • Research is already underway at the University of Oxford to produce a second generation of the AstraZeneca vaccine. 
  • The AstraZeneca vaccines will expire in April. 

The next shipment of 500 000 AstraZeneca doses is set to arrive in the country later this month.