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SOUTH AFRICA: Astra/Zeneca vaccine temporarily suspended

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South Africa has decided to suspend the vaccine developed by the Astra/Zeneca-Oxford laboratories following a study by the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. According to the South African authorities, the study shows that the UK vaccine offers limited protection against moderate forms of the disease due to the South African variant in young adults.

This is a blow to South Africa, which enthusiastically welcomed the first delivery of Astra/Zeneca vaccine doses. The country has decided to suspend the vaccination campaign that began a few weeks ago to stop the spread of the coronavirus. According to the first results of the study by the University of Witwatersrand, the vaccine is only 22% effective against moderate forms of the South African variant. No results are yet available on its effectiveness against severe forms. “This is a temporary problem, we need to suspend the AstraZeneca vaccines until we have solved these problems,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said at a press conference.

The 1.5 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine delivered to South Africa will already expire in April. However, according to the Minister, they will be retained until the scientists give clear indications of their use. For his part, the epidemiologist and co-chair of the scientific committee at the South African Ministry of Health, Professor Salim Abdool Karim, warned that the second generation of vaccines for all variants will take longer to produce. 

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Minister Zweli Mkhize wanted to reassure his fellow citizens about the availability of other vaccines. “In the next four weeks, we will have Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines,” she said. Discussions with other laboratories are also underway, including Moderna and the Russian vaccine manufacturer Sputnik V. The South African minister recently announced that he has earmarked 20 million doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine. South Africa plans to vaccinate at least 67% of the population by the end of the year, or about 40 million people.

The WHO Strategic Committee of Immunization Experts meets on Monday to make interim recommendations on the use of the vaccine developed by Oxford and AstraZeneca. “Special attention will be given to the discussion on the use of the vaccine on older adults,” says the WHO agenda. With an average efficiency of 70% at the moment, this vaccine is less convincing than those of Pfizer/BioNTech or Moderna, whose effectiveness exceeds 90%.

The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine has been approved by several countries, but some have preferred to recommend it only for people under the age of 65, due to insufficient data on older people.

       

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