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8 Feb, 2021 18:29

South Africa mulls ‘stepped’ rollout to test AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab against local variant after study raises efficacy concerns

South Africa mulls ‘stepped’ rollout to test AstraZeneca Covid-19 jab against local variant after study raises efficacy concerns

Around 100,000 people in South Africa could be given the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to test if it is effective at protecting against the local variant of the virus, the government's chief scientific adviser said on Monday.

South Africa's health minister announced on Sunday that the government was putting a “temporary hold” on its rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a study suggested it would not work against the 501.V2 variant.

On Monday, government adviser Salim Abdool Karim said health chiefs are now looking at a “stepped” rollout of the vaccine where 100,000 people are given the jab, with the option for it to then be given to the wider population if hospitalization rates among the test group are below a certain threshold.

“We don't want to end up with a situation where we vaccinate a million people or two million people with a vaccine that may not be effective in preventing hospitalizations and severe disease,” he told a World Health Organization (WHO) briefing.

Also on rt.com South Africa SUSPENDS AstraZeneca vaccine rollout after study shows its ‘limited efficacy’ against local variant

A study of 2,000 people in South Africa, which is yet to be peer reviewed, showed that the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca with the University of Oxford did not show protection against “mild-moderate Covid-19” due to the variant, according to the Financial Times.

Karim told the WHO that lab tests revealed that the Pfizer/BioNTech and Sinopharm vaccines had shown “minimal reduction in the potency of antibodies” against the South African variant, however other jabs – including AstraZeneca's – had shown “very substantial reductions in neutralizing activity” in tackling the strain.

“We don't fully understand what those laboratory results mean, and so we need clinical data,” he added.

The WHO's immunization chief Katherine O'Brien, who was also present at Monday's briefing, said multiple trials of the AstraZeneca vaccine show that “it is very clear it has efficacy against severe disease, hospitalization and deaths.”

During its clinical trials of around 24,000 people, mostly aged between 18 and 55, the jab was found to have 60 percent efficacy against Covid-19.

Karim said that the South African government would roll out the Covid-19 vaccine developed by Johnson & Johnson while it assesses the AstraZeneca vaccine.

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