According to preliminary results of a study at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is only 22% effective against moderate forms of the variant that have emerged in South Africa. This spells bad news for the world and especially for South Africa where a new more contagious variant of SARS-Cov-2 has emerged.
On Sunday, February 7, 2021, South Africa suspended the start of its Covid 19 vaccination program. This was to be done in the coming days with one million Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines. This decision was made after a study (not yet peer-reviewed) showed “limited” efficacy against the local variant of the virus. According to the initial results of this study, the vaccine is only 22% effective against the moderate forms of the South African variant. No results are available on efficacy against severe forms.
According to the US FDA, a vaccine must be at least 50% effective to be considered for approval.
AstraZeneca/Oxford’s vaccine under the scrutiny of WHO
This week, experts from the World Health Organization (WHO) will discuss the Covid-19 vaccine jointly developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford. The vaccine is already licensed in several other countries and in the European Union, and the United Kingdom was the first country to administer it widely to its population back in December.
This is also the vaccine that is also manufactured in India and is being made available to developing countries under COVAX, a global initiative aimed at equitable access to COVID-19 vaccines. COVAX anticipates that 150 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine will be made available to poorer countries in the first quarter of 2021. Morocco for instance one of the first countries to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine has already started its vaccination campaign last week.
The AstraZeneca Oxford vaccine is yet to be approved in the US and is still undergoing trials. If the new variants become the dominant strains then this might require that the vaccine be adjusted so that it stays relevant.
AstraZeneca shows confidence in its vaccine
As for South Africa, a press release from the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg (where the study was conducted that led to the suspension of the Covid 19 vaccination campaign in the country) states that “Initial results appear to confirm that the viral mutation discovered in South Africa can be transmitted to the already vaccinated population.” “We believe our vaccine continues to protect against severe forms of the disease,” AstraZeneca responded via a spokesperson contacted by AFP.