JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa has used AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 shot in its vaccination program, after data showed it provided minimal protection against mild to moderate infections caused by the country’s major coronavirus virus Does.
Health Minister Zweli Makhis said on Sunday that the government would consult scientists on how to proceed, after a test that AstraZeneca vaccine did not significantly reduce the risk of mild or moderate COVID-19 from the 501Y.V2 variant, last year Second wave of transition at the end of.
Researchers said that before the widespread spread of the more infectious variant, the vaccine was showing about 75% effect.
In a later analysis based mostly on infections by the new version, there was only a 22% lower risk of developing mild-to-moderate COVID-19 versus those who were given placebo. Although the researchers said the figure was not statistically significant, due to the test design, it is well below the norm of at least 50% of regulators for vaccines considered effective against the virus.
The study did not assess whether the vaccine helped prevent severe COVID-19 because it included mostly young adults who were not considered to be at high risk for critical illness.
AstraZeneca said on Saturday that it believes its vaccine can protect against serious illness and has begun adopting it against the 501Y.V2 variant.
Nevertheless, Professor Shabbir Madhi, the lead investigator for the AstraZeneca trial in South Africa, said the vaccine figures were a reality check and it was time to “recoup our expectations of COVID-19 vaccines”.
South Africa expects vaccination of 40 million people, or two-thirds, to achieve some level of herd immunity but not a single pill has yet been administered.
It expected health workers to roll out the AstraZeneca vaccine on Monday after receiving 1 million doses produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII).
Instead, it will introduce health workers vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer / BioNotech in the coming weeks.
“What does this mean for our vaccination program that we said will start in February? The answer is, it will go ahead, ”Mkhize told an online news briefing. “From next week onwards for the next four weeks we expect Jammu and Kashmir vaccines, PFT vaccines.”
Professor Salim Abdul Karim, an epidemiologist advising the government, said that a new approach to vaccination is needed, given the uncertainty about how effective vaccination would currently be against the 501Y.V2 version.
He said that the vaccine should be used in a target group to assess the rate of vaccination in the hospital first, and then if it proves to be effective in hospitalization, it may help in a broader level of rollout. .
If it was not effective for hospitalization, individuals who received it should be offered a more effective vaccine, either as a booster based on a version, or another vaccine, Abdul Karim said.
It is likely that South Africa will experience a third wave of infection when winter begins in about four months time.
He said it would be “somewhat reckless” to drop the 1 million AstraZeneca the country had found when there was still a chance they could defend against severe COVID-19.
Anban Pillay, deputy director-general of the Ministry of Health, said AstraZeneca’s dose expiration date was in April, but the government was seeking an extension or exchange from SII.
Madhi said that South Africa would like to rename its target group for vaccination. “It really should be centered around the prevention of serious illness and the possibility of a resurgence after some time can lead to death.”
Reporting by Alexander Winning and Olivia Kumwenda-Mountambo; Editing by Alexander Smith and Bill Burcott