EXPLAINER: This is why SA suspended its roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine
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DURBAN - NATIONAL Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize, recently announced that South Africa had sold its batch of AstraZeneca vaccines to the AU. Mkhize added that the full purchase amount was also recovered.
One of the main reasons that SA had to suspend the roll-out programme was due to the emergency of the 501Y.V2 or B.1.351 variant. Laboratory findings revealed that the AstraZeneca vaccine had little to no ability to neutralise the variant and clinical trials in South Africa showed the drop in efficacy rates.
Internationally renowned virologist, Professor Barry Schoub, explained there was not credible scientific evidence that the vaccine would prevent severe disease.
He said the efficacy of the vaccine to prevent patients getting more ill or requiring hospitalisation could not be assessed and many people older than 65 were excluded from the trial.
that the lab studies, clinical trial results and a peer-reviewed journal revealed the vaccine's inability to prevent mild to moderate illness.
"Therefore, the virtual absence of effective AstraZeneca vaccine-elicited antibodies against B.1.351 must be a serious signal of the impotence of the AstraZeneca vaccine against the variant virus," he said.
Schoub said there was no evidence to confirm speculation that other components of the immune system may somehow play a role in hypothetically protecting against severe disease due to B.1.351.
He further disputed claims that because the AstraZeneca vaccine was structured similarly to other adenovirus-vectored vaccines like the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which has proven to be effective against B.1.351, that it would work.
Schoub added that over and above the scientific reasons, there were societal issues around giving the vaccine to volunteers who wished to take it.
"If the vaccine will not work to prevent severe disease, and there certainly are some worryingly compelling pieces of evidence that it may not work, it could cause false confidence and security in vaccine recipients. The all-important population confidence and societal trust in vaccines could be seriously damaged by vaccine failures, and using short supply consumables and other limited resources for a vaccine which may or may not work was not justifiable," he said.
Schoub said medical interventions must be founded on authentic scientific evidence.
Schoub said should the AstraZeneca vaccine by demonstrated in future to be satisfactorily effected against B.1.531 or other future variants, it may occupy an important public health role in SA.
He added that public health interventions must continue to be guided by the best, currently available scientific evidence.