After trails showed disappointing results, South Africa has put its rollout of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine on hold.
Oxford vaccine not effective enough against the South African strain
Since making the headlines, the South African variant now counts for 90% of COVID infections in the country. This strain contains a mutation that could essentially allow the virus to thwart the immune system’s response, sparking concerns that some vaccines may be rendered less effective.
A recent trial involving 2,000 people in South Africa showed that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine offered ‘minimal protection’ against mild and moderate cases of the SA strain. Professor Shabir Madhi, the chief investigator of the study revealed:
Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work against mild and moderate illness.
This reaction is not so unexpected as the South African variant contains a significant mutation along the virus’ protein spike, which could affect all vaccines in some way. Trails in the country for Novavax and Janssen also showed less efficacy when it comes to the SA strain, while Moderna and Pfizer have shown that their jabs will hold strong against the mutation.
The vaccine may still work to reduce coronavirus deaths
However, the small study has yet to be peer-reviewed and Professor Madhi is hopeful that the vaccine may still be more effective for different age groups:
There's still some hope that the AstraZeneca vaccine might well perform as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a different age group demographic that I address of severe disease
Other experts also suspect that while the vaccine isn’t so effective at combating mild-moderate cases of COVID, it may still be able to prevent more severe cases. Professor Sarah Gilbert, Oxford's lead vaccine developer explained to the Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, that while the Oxford vaccine may not be able to reduce the overall cases of the South African COVID strain, it may help to reduce the mortality rate as well as the number of infected persons requiring hospitalisation.
Professor Gilbert continued to reveal that Oxford is now working again to develop their vaccine to be more effective against the South African coronavirus strain, the updated jab should be available later on in the year.
Since the pandemic began, South Africa has suffered from 1.5 million cases of coronavirus as well as 46,000 deaths, a toll higher than any other on the continent. South Africa had also ordered one million doses of the Oxford vaccine. Now, the government is waiting for further advice on what to do with their doses in light of the new findings. Until then, South Africa will be offering its residents vaccines by Johnson & Johnson as well as Pfizer.