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

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A study conducted by the University of Witwatersrand, which is not yet peer-reviewed, shows a “two-dose regimen of the vaccine provides minimal protection against mild-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

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a junior daily news reporter at the Mail & Guardian. She was previously a freelance journalist and a broadcaster at Maroela Media and Smile90.4FM.

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