AstraZeneca vaccine fails to prevent South African strain

AstraZeneca vaccine: Initial trials show the vaccine to be less effective against this particular strain.
AstraZeneca vaccine: Initial trials show the vaccine to be less effective against this particular strain. Source: Agência Brasília (via Wikimedia Commons)

By Luthien Evans | News Editor

Reports have displayed the ‘disappointing’ results this week that experts have found, as the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine is shown to provide ‘minimal protection’ against mild and moderate cases of the South African COVID-19 variant. A 2000-strong trial concluded this result. Despite this, experts remain hopeful that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will remain just as useful in the prevention of South African variants cases which are deemed severe- however, the results have yet to be determined on this factor. 

These final results are not as final as they appear, however. The trial conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand and Oxford University, has yet to be peer reviewed, as of the week beginning 8 February. Furthermore, the effectiveness of the test is to be questioned due to the sample group having an average age of 31- therefore not reflecting the demographic for those most at risk of severe symptoms. 

This variant is said to account for 90% of new cases in South Africa. South Africa has had the highest amount of COVID-19 related deaths in Africa- 46,000 people have died. The vaccine was initially seen as a sign of hope- but with these new studies, the distribution of their one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab has been halted. However, both the UK government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) have stepped in confronting the issues of ineffectiveness and preemptive halts of vaccinations. They claim that the vaccinations could be helpful in the prevention of serious cases needed hospitalisation, as well as helping to lower the death rate in the country. 

The Health Minister of the South Africa government, Zweli Mkhize, has stated that the government is waiting for further advice regarding the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and what is the best way to proceed following the revelations of the trial. The government, however, is proceeding with the vaccines provided by other manufacturers, including the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines. However, Johnson & Johnson have also stated that their vaccine was ‘less effective’ with the South African variant, although in similar trials the vaccines upheld their effectiveness in regards to severe cases of COVID-19.

Oxford’s lead vaccine developer, Professor Sarah Gilbert, announced on the Andrew Marr Show that developers ‘were likely to have a modified version of the injection against the South African variant later this year’.

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