covid-19 vaccine

Covid-19 vaccine: Covishield may not work on South Africa variant

Published by Andile Sicetsha

Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize was accompanied by Covid-19 experts at a media briefing that outlined South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine acquisition and rollout programme.

Study: Covishield Covid-19 vaccine is inefficient against South Africa variant

All hopes of South Africa kicking off its three-phased vaccine programme were shattered when the minister revealed that the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca (Covishied) vaccine has been halted.

The decision came after a study showed that the vaccine had a reduced efficacy rate against the Covid-19 variant that mutated in South Africa.

Before the spread of the 501Y.V2 variant, a similar study had observed “a 75% lesser likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19.”

“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,” Professor Shabir Madhi said.

Prof Madhi led the clinical trial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine candidate in South Africa. The outcomes of the latest study that used 2 000 participants, aged between 18 and 65 years old, prove that Covishield will not be effective against the 501Y.V2 strain.

‘It’s not all doom and gloom’ – Prof Salim Abdool Karim

However, according to Professor Salim Abdool Karim, it is not all doom and gloom. While the vaccines may not work against the 501Y.V2 variant, they do show high efficacy levels against most variants.

“COVID vaccines remain effective against existing variants. The next set of vaccines will be made from the 501Y.V2 variant and so they are likely to be effective against the 501Y.V2 variant. 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,” he said.

South Africa’s only hope is to acquire vaccines made by Pfizer and Moderna which, according to the leading Covid-19 expert, seem to do reasonably well against the variant found in South Africa.

Pfizer, J&J doses are coming next week

Mkhize remained optimistic, stating that the vaccine drive would not miss its February start date, with all things pointing towards South Africa acquiring Pfizer and J&J doses as early as next week.

“What does that mean for our vaccination programme which we said will start in February? The answer is it will proceed. From next week for the next four weeks, we expect that there will be J&J vaccines, there will be Pfizer vaccines,” he said.

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