South Africa suspends AstraZeneca vaccination campaign due to new variant
JOHANNESBURG – South Africa has suspended plans to vaccinate its frontline health workers with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested it was not effective in preventing mild to moderate illness of the dominant variant in the country.
South Africa has received its first million doses of AstraZeneca AZN,
vaccine last week and was due to start administering vaccines to health workers in mid-February. The first disappointing results indicate that an inoculation campaign using the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be useful.
Preliminary data from a small study suggests that the AstraZeneca vaccine offers only “minimal protection against mild to moderate disease” caused by the variant in South Africa. The variant appears to be more contagious and is leading to a deadly resurgence of the disease in the country, currently accounting for more than 90% of COVID-19 cases, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday evening.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine was shown to be effective against the original strain, but not against the variant,” Mkhize said. “We have decided to temporarily suspend the deployment of the vaccine… there is still work to be done. “
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved 2,000 people, most of whom were young and healthy. The average age of the volunteers was 31 years old.
“Protection against moderate to severe illness, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study because the target population was at such a low risk,” said a statement released by the University of Oxford. and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Scientists will study whether or not the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in preventing serious illness and death against the variant, Mkhize said.
Other vaccines showed reduced efficacy against the variant, but provided good protection against serious illness and death.
Public health officials are concerned about the South African variant because it contains a mutation in the spike protein characteristic of the virus, which is targeted by existing vaccines. South African officials say the variant is more contagious and evidence is emerging that it could be more virulent.
South Africa will urgently deploy more vaccines to inoculate as many as possible in the coming months, Mkhize said. Other South African scientists said on Sunday that the clinical trials of Johnson & Johnson JNJ,
vaccine show good results against the variant.
The first results of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the variant could have far-reaching implications, as many other countries in Africa and beyond have plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine. The international COVAX initiative purchased the AstraZeneca vaccine in bulk from the Serum Institute of India.
The developers of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine expect to have a vaccine modified to deal with the South African coronavirus variant by the fall, the vaccine’s lead researcher said on Sunday.
Sarah Gilbert, principal researcher for the Oxford team, told the BBC on Sunday that “we have a version with the South African spike streak in the works”.
“It seems very likely that we can have a new version ready for use in the fall,” she added.
English authorities last week went door to door administering COVID-19 tests in eight regions where the South African variant is believed to be spreading, after a handful of cases were found in people who had no contact with the country or anyone who traveled there.
More than 100 cases of the South African variant have been found in the UK. The testing blitz is an attempt to quell the variant before it spreads widely and jeopardizes the UK vaccination rollout.
Britain has experienced Europe’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak, with more than 112,000 confirmed deaths, but has embarked on a faster vaccination plan than the neighboring European Union. The UK has so far given an initial coronavirus vaccine to around 11.5 million people.