File picture: Dado Ruvic/Reuters
File picture: Dado Ruvic/Reuters

Top scientists slam Ramaphosa and MAC over vaccine strategy

By Rudolph Nkgadima Time of article published Mar 31, 2021

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Cape Town – Two of South Africa’s top scientists say they are surprised the government has decided not to pursue the Novavax vaccine, despite data showing that the vaccine is efficacious against the dominant virus variant found in South Africa.

Addressing the nation on Tuesday night, President Cyril Ramaphosa said they were in various stages of negotiations with the manufacturers of other vaccines such as Sinovac, Sinopharm and Sputnik V.

Ramaphosa said: “We have secured 11 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which we know to be effective against the dominant variants in our country. We have secured a further 20 million doses and are finalising the agreement with Johnson & Johnson.”

“We are also finalising an agreement for 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, which requires two doses,” he added.

Reacting to the announcement, head of Infectious Diseases at UCT, Prof Marc Mendelson, said it was impossible to fathom why Novavax would be rejected.

“Makes absolutely no sense to me. I would love to hear from the chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on vaccines as to the reasoning. It is impossible to fathom why Novavax would be passed up, great vaccine. Would be proud and feel safer to have it in my deltoid muscle,” Mendelson said.

Mendelson also questioned how the government planned to enforce the 50% rule for large gatherings and said chances of enforcement of the rule were close to zero.

“Chances of super-spreading events indoors during religious gatherings will be a bit higher,” he said.

Echoing Mendelson, Wits professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi said the Novavax vaccine had 100% protection against the B1.351 severe Covid variant in South Africa and it is efficacious against mild Covid-19.

“Seemingly, MAC has advised the South African government not to pursue the AstraZeneca or Novavax vaccine.”

In an editorial recently published in the SA Medical Journal, a group of scientists attacked the country’s decision to resell its million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine to the AU.

With a third wave of Covid-19 infections looming, many were anticipating Ramaphosa to impose tighter restrictions around the sale of alcohol, and social and religious gatherings.

However, Ramaphosa said given the relatively low transmission levels, the Cabinet decided to keep the country on alert level 1.

The president announced that the sale of alcohol for off-site consumption will be prohibited this Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Monday.

Liquor Traders Formation convener Lucky Ntimane said although they supported and welcomed the new restrictions, the ban on sales for off-site consumption was a big issue for them.

“We feel that the president could have done more but we understand that the president had to juggle between saving lives, minimising the resurgence of the virus and also the economy. We are happy that we will be able to fully operate on an on-premises basis during this period. We support and will continue to support government’s efforts in the fight against the pandemic.”

Faith-based organisations also welcomed the president’s move to allow more people to gather at places of worship during Easter.

“Religious leaders asked for half of the venue during discussions with the government and now with the new figures, most churches would be comfortable with having 250 people indoors,” said the South African Council of Churches.

Religious gatherings will be restricted to 250 people indoors and 500 outdoors – an increase in numbers.

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