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A study conducted by the University of Witwatersrand, which is not yet peer-reviewed, shows a “two-dose regimen of the vaccine provides minimal protection against mild-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