On February 7, 2021 (Sunday), South African health officials have announced that the rollout of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine in the country will be paused after a study has shown that the said vaccine may not have the same efficacy against the mutated 501Y.V2 variant.
“The briefing came promptly after new studies earlier the same week showed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, of which South Africa had procured one million doses from the Serum Institute of India, may not have the same efficacy (or effectiveness) against the mutated COVID-19 501Y.V2 variant – which is predominant in South Africa.”
-COVID-19 South African Online Portal
AstraZeneca Before 501Y.V2 Variant Emerged
In a study, according to Professor Shabir Madhi, that was conducted before the 501Y.V2 Variant started spreading in South Africa, the vaccine showed “tremendous potential”. And, just 14 days after taking the first of two jabs, participants showed a 75% lesser likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19.
Furthermore, Professor Madhi led the clinical trial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate locally in South Africa.
AstraZeneca When 501Y.V2 Variant Emerged
When the new variant emerged and spread in South Africa, it was shown in the study that there was a “substantial drop” in the vaccine’s ability to neutralize the activity of the virus when tested in the lab.
“Much of the antibody induced by the vaccine was not actually active against the variant circulating in SA.”
“When we analysed individuals in terms of how well the vaccine worked against the variant, there was very little difference between the vaccine group and placebo group.”
The said study included 2,000 volunteers where the median age was 31 years old.
The result of the study was announced by the Wits Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics (VIDA) Research Unit, which runs the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine trial in South Africa.
“In the result of the Researchers from South Africa and the UK found that viral neutralisation by sera induced by the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 coronavirus vaccine against the B.1.351 coronavirus variant were substantially reduced when compared with the ‘original’ strain of the coronavirus.”
Also, it was noted in the released news release that the findings in the study are early preliminary data and have been submitted for peer review and will appear as a pre-print in the days ahead.
Temporary Hold the Roll Out of AstraZeneca Vaccine
One of the leading COVID-19 experts in South Africa Professor Salim Abdool Karim stated that the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccines will need to be put on a temporary hold.
“We can still proceed with our rollout but we need to do it wisely by taking a stepped approach.”
What will happen to the Current Doses of AstraZeneca in SA?
Furthermore, South Africa had procured one million doses of the vaccine.
In the current doses of AstraZeneca vaccine that is already in SA, according to South Africa Minister of Health Dr. Zweli Mkhize, SA scientists will continue with further deliberations on the AstraZeneca vaccine in SA.
What will happen to the current doses of AstraZeneca vaccine already in SA will depend on the advice from leading scientists. pic.twitter.com/EmJiffOLC2
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) February 10, 2021
Also, SA will be exchanging unused AstraZeneca vaccines that have already arrived in the country.
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) February 10, 2021
In a tweet posted on February 12, Dr. Zweli Mkhize wrote that “AstraZeneca vaccines are not expired. We are not saying we’re never going to use AstraZeneca. We need more research and have met with the DG of @WHO and many advisors.”
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) February 11, 2021
Here’s a video posted on Twitter today by Dr. Mkhize clarifying the issues around South Africa’s decision to delay its vaccine rollout.
This week, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize clarified issues around South Africa’s decision to delay it’s vaccine rollout programme. In his SONA, President Cyril Ramaphosa annouced that the new vaccines will arrive next week, and gave details of other procurements pic.twitter.com/Y8vtWBNrah
— Dr Zweli Mkhize (@DrZweliMkhize) February 14, 2021
Statement of Oxford
In the news released rolled out on February 7, 2021, here’s the statement of Professor of Paediatric Infection and Immunity, and Chief Investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial Andrew Pollard:
“This study confirms that the pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected, but, taken with the promising results from other studies in South Africa, such as those using a similar viral vector, vaccines may continue to ease the toll on health care systems by preventing severe disease.”
Also, Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford said that “efforts are underway to develop a new generation of vaccines that will allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants as booster jabs, if it turns out that it is necessary to do so.”
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