South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize has announced the temporary suspension of its one million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines rollout until further notice due the doses being less effective against the mutated variant of the coronavirusAccording to the latest data, the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine protected three in four people against variants from the first wave, while it protects one in four people from the new variant in the second wave.
The new Covid-19 variant, scientifically known as SARS-CoV-2 501Y.V2, is very common in South Africa, leading to the authorities to put a brake on its distribution till further studies have been conducted, Mkhize said.
Now the country was looking to acquiring another type of vaccine, with the Johnson & Johnson’s single dose injection and its 57% efficacy being a possibility, the minister said.
Pretoria received its first shipment of the one million Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine doses out of the 1.5 million it had procured from India on 1 February at a public ceremony held at the OR Tambo Airport attended by President Cyril Ramaphosa and members of his Cabinet, including Deputy President David Mabuza and Mkhize.
South African Scientist Shabir Madhi, who led the clinical trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine candidate locally, said his team conducted a study of 2,000 participants, aged between 18 and 65 years.
According to research, the vaccine showed “tremendous potential” before the new variant began spreading, Dr Madhi said, adding that just 14 days after taking the first of two jabs, participants showed a 75% lesser likelihood of becoming infected with Covid-19.
However, things changed slightly when the 501Y.V2 variant, first discovered in November 2020, emerged and spread rapidly throughout the country.
“Much of the antibody induced by the vaccine was not actually active against the variant circulating in South Africa during the second wave,” Madhi told a press briefing Mkhize hosted Sunday night.
A study has since shown a “substantial drop” in the vaccine’s ability to neutralise the activity of the virus when tested in the lab, he added.
“When we analysed individuals in terms of how well the vaccine worked against the 501Y.V2 variant, there was very little difference between the vaccine group and placebo group,” Madhi said, thereby leading to the suspension announcement.