South Africa has suspended the planned rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine after it was found to offer “minimal” protection against the country’s dominant virus strain.
Zweli Mkhize, South Africa’s minister of health, said on Sunday that evidence from early trial showed the vaccine offered limited protection to participants against the coronavirus strain first recorded in the country.
The early trial involved about 2,000 people who were not fully protected from mild or moderate illness caused by the new strain.
Also known as 501.V2 coronavirus variant, the strain, said to be about 50 percent more contagious, is the dominant virus variant in most parts of South Africa.
The country was on the verge of rolling out the AstraZeneca vaccine after it received one million doses produced by the Serum Institute of India on Monday.
It is now considering deploying the vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer, pending directives from a committee of scientists.
“What does that mean for our vaccination programme which we said will start in February? The answer is it will proceed,” local media quoted Mkhize to have said.
“From next week for the next four weeks we expect that there will be J&J vaccines, there will be Pfizer vaccines. So what will be available to the health workers will be those vaccines.
“The AstraZeneca vaccine will remain with us … up until the scientists give us clear indications as to what we need to do.”
Shabir Madhi, a professor at Wits University who is involved in the vaccination process, told a briefing that the situation is not “all doom and gloom.”
He said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine offered “more promising” effectiveness against the South Africa variant and other severe forms of the virus.
The discovery of the variant in South Africa coincided with a spike in infections in the country.
Although there’s no confirmed record of the strain in Nigeria yet, it has been detected in about 30 countries and could cause setbacks in the race to vaccinate various populations against the coronavirus.