SA forced to switch from AstraZeneca vaccine rollout plan

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This week has begun with some devastating news regarding South Africa’s vaccine rollout plan, as the Oxford/AstraZeneca-manufactured batch that was secured for our frontline healthcare workers is proving ineffective against the local mutation of the COVID-19 virus.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize confirmed the news during a media briefing last night, noting that the country’s healthcare workers will receive a single dose of either the Johnson & Johnson or Pfizer vaccines instead.

Professor Shabir Madhi reiterated during the same briefing that the vaccines that had been procured at the beginning of the month have yielded “disappointing results” with the South Africa variant of the coronavirus.

With the aforementioned Oxford/AstraZeneca batch of one million vaccines expiring in April, it remains to be seen what will be done with a treatment that is clearly not fit for purpose locally. Deputy Director-General for the National Department of Health (NDoH), Anban Pillay, said the NDoH are engaging with the Serum Institute in India, where the vaccine was developed and shipped from, to find a solution.

Precisely what that solution will be, is unclear for now.

“In the short term, the AstraZeneca vaccine had disappointing results – but we may be able to still use it, maybe in combination with other vaccines. We just need to suspend use of AstraZeneca but investigate to see if we can use it in a different way,” added Professor Barry Schoub, chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on Vaccines.

According to Madhi, the original dominant strain of COVID-19 had yielded a 75 percent efficacy in lowering the chances of infection when tested on a group of 2 000 people aged 18 to 65 last year, but the new mutation has proved far more resilient.

“Unfortunately, viruses mutate. Sometimes this is by accident. But often the reason is that the virus wants to become more adept to infect the host,” he pointed out.

As for what this means for South Africa’s vaccine rollout, little is known at this stage, with securing of doses capable of proving more effective against the local strain extremely difficult at the moment.

As such, we’ll need to wait for more information to come out of the NDoH. For now though, the county’s vaccine rollout plan has hit a major hurdle.

[Image – CC BY-ND 2.0 – GovernmentZA on Flickr]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.