South Africa halts rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine amid efficacy concerns

pharmafile | February 8, 2021 | News story | Sales and Marketing AstraZeneca, COVID-19 

AstraZeneca is racing to adapt its COVID-19 vaccine as new data suggests it offers little protection against the more dominant variant identified in South Africa.

The country has halted its rollout of the AstraZeneca jab after a study, published on Sunday, found the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild to moderate disease caused by the South African strain of coronavirus.

South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a briefing: “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.”

Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and Oxford University noted that the study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, involved only around 2,000 volunteers who had an average age of 31.

Oxford University said: “Protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalisation, or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population were at such low risk.”

Manufacturers of the AstraZeneca vaccine are now looking at ways to make new jabs that can better protect against the South African variant, as growing evidence suggests that the efficacy of a number of vaccines – including those by Janssen and Novavax – is significantly lower against the new, more virulent strain.

Experts at Oxford University, AstraZeneca’s partner in making the vaccine, have said making a new jab to target variants of the virus is relatively easy, and one could be available later this year.

Sarah Gilbert, a Professor of Vaccinology at the University of Oxford, told The Andrew Marr Show that a version of the vaccine with the South African spike sequence was “in the works”.

She said: “It’s not quite ready to vaccinate people with yet, but as all of the developers are using platform technologies, these are ways of making a vaccine that are very quick to adapt.

“It looks very much like it will be available for the autumn.”

Darcy Jimenez

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