Roll-out of AstraZeneca vaccine now placed on temporary hold

Picture: @GovernmentZA, Facebook

Last night, Health Minister Dr Mkhize and health experts discussed South Africa’s vaccine roll-out programme and decided to halt the roll out of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The media briefing was held last night 19:00 to discuss the updates on the vaccine following reports released earlier last week.

Studies found that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine was not effective against the mutated COVID-19 501Y.V2 variant that is currently dominant in the country.

One million doses of this vaccine arrived in South Africa from the Serum Institute of India at the start of February.

The update on the vaccine

Professor Shabir Madhi says that 2000 participants between ages 18 and 65 were part of the local trial of this vaccine around October last year. Madhi said the vaccine showed potential as two weeks after the first dose, participants showed 75% lesser chance of contracting Covid-19.

However, this has changed as the new variant started spreading. When testing the vaccine against the new variant, Madhi says that there was a substantial drop in the vaccine’s ability to neutralise the virus when tested. Little difference was found between the vaccine group and the placebo group.

Professor Salim Abdool Karim said that the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines seem to perform reasonably well against the variant despite their neutralising activity being diminished. The Sinopharm vaccine has also shown a 1.5 fold reduction in efficacy. Karim is hopeful that the Johnson&Johnson vaccine will show a small decline in efficacy and can be used to start the rollout.

Karim said that the new set of vaccines will be made from the 501Y.V2 variant and are expected to be more effective.

“We are expecting two kinds of vaccines: the first is 501Y.V2 boosters and we have already heard about the good progress they are making on these boosters,” Karim says.

“You will take the existing vaccine to give you immunity against the existing variants and then take this booster which will boost it in order to give you protection from 501Y.V2 variant. A next generation of vaccinations is intended to be much broader and will cover you from the current and future variants. That will take a little longer to develop,” he adds.

While the rollout of the AstraZeneca has been placed on a temporary hold, Karim says that vaccine rollout can continue with a stepped approach in place.