SA halts AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

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In January, South Africans heard the news that not only was a COVID-19 vaccine rollout on the way, but that the government had announced the Electronic Vaccine Data System (or EVDS) — a digital platform where citizens could sign up for jabs.

Plans have unfortunately hit a snag, according to a report in The Daily Maverick. The lead investigator in the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial, Professor Shabir Madhi, has reported “disappointing results” from the initial round of vaccines.

At present, only citizens who qualify for Phase 1 vaccinations — which includes those on the frontline in the health care industry — get shifted to the front of the queue. The report from Professor Madhi reports that subjects are not responding well to the vaccine thanks to a strain that has come to be known as “the South African variant” of the coronavirus.

In a study involving 2,000 adults between the ages of 18 and 65 without underlying comorbidities (which is the presence of one or more additional medical conditions often co-occurring or co-existing with a primary condition), Madhi said, “to be successful we needed to show 60% efficacy.”

That having been said, The Daily Maverick reports that “the data from the Oxford/AstraZeneca trial showed that the South African variant of the coronavirus exhibited some resistance to antibodies produced by an immune response to infection with the original coronavirus, and to vaccines”.

Here’s where things get interesting.

Multiple strains

One of the reasons the Coronavirus remains a dominant force in the lives of people globally is because it reportedly mutates at a rate of knots.

“Unfortunately, viruses mutate,” Madhi told The Daily Maverick. “Sometimes this is by accident. But often the reason is that the virus wants to become more adept to infect the host.”

The upshot of this unfortunate set of circumstances is that the antibodies produced by the  Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine were not active against the “South African variant” of the Coronavirus under lab conditions.

This has apparently led to a revision of South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout. The use of a jab from Johnson & Johnson has been mooted, but this is still in the discussion phase; Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize has been quoted as saying that health workers won’t be used as field test guinea pigs.

Sources: The Daily Maverick, BBC

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