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CONFIRMED: AstraZeneca vaccine provides minimal protection against Covid-19 variant

Professor Shabir Madhi, Dean of Health Sciences at Wits University

Professor Shabir Madhi, Dean of Health Sciences at Wits University

Published Feb 7, 2021

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Cape Town - The AstraZeneca vaccine provides minimal protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 symptoms from the variant first discovered in South Africa, Professor Shabir Madhi, Dean of Health Sciences at Wits University, confirmed on Sunday.

Madhi, Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize and the Health Committee were addressing the media on the latest research on Covid-19 vaccines and South Africa’s roll-out strategy.

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While the AstraZeneca vaccine had high efficacy against the original coronavirus, it offers limited protection against the 501Y.V2 variant, Madhi said.

In this study of approximately 2,000 volunteers, protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalisation or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population were at low risk.

Madhi said the findings is now forcing the Health Committee to “recalibrate thinking about how to approach the pandemic virus”.

An AstraZeneca spokesman told Reuters on Sunday: "Oxford University and AstraZeneca have started adapting the vaccine against this variant and will advance rapidly through clinical development so that it is ready for autumn delivery should it be needed.“

South Africa received a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine from the Serum Institute of India this week, with another batch of 500 000 doses set to be delivered later this month.

Mkhize told members of the health portfolio committee on Friday that the country will also get 9 million doses from Johnson & Johnson, 20 million from Pfizer and 12 million from the Covax facility.

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Professor Glenda Gray said early results from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was more promising and could be a “silver bullet”

The single-dose vaccine was shown to be 85 percent effective in preventing severe disease and death in the 501Y.V2 variant.

“We are in advanced discussions to further evaluate the single shot Covid vaccine in South Africa in an accelerated manner,” said Gray.

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Mkhize said healthcare workers will be vaccinated with the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines.

The panel confirmed that the AstraZeneca vaccine did come with an April expiry date and that talks were underway with the Serum Institute of India to possibly exchange the stock.

On Saturday Mkhize announced that 3 184 more people had tested positive for Covid-19 in SA, taking the country's cumulative number of cases identified in the country to 1 473 700.

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A total of 278 Covid-19-related deaths were recorded in the last 24 hours, Mkhize said on Saturday.

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