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South Africa has decided to suspend the release of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a study showed “deviant” results from its new version of Covid.
According to scientists, the new option represents 90% of new cases of Covid in South Africa.
A study of about 2,000 people found that the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild to moderate cases.
However, experts hope that the vaccine will continue to be effective in preventing severe cases.
South Africa has reported nearly 1.5 million coronavirus cases and more than 46,000 deaths since the start of the pandemic – a higher percentage than any other country on the continent.
South Africa received one million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine and was preparing to start vaccinating humans.
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On 8 February, the WHO warned against jumping to conclusions about the efficacy of Covid vaccines.
Dr Catherine O’Brien, WHO’s director of immunization, said it was highly plausible that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine would have a significant impact on the South African option, especially when it comes to preventing hospitalizations and death.
She emphasized that the WHO expert group had a “very positive view” on the continued use of the vaccine, including in areas where variants were circulating, but that more data and information would be needed to continue the pandemic.
South African Health Minister Tsveli Mkhize said his government would wait for further advice on how best to proceed with the AstraZeneca vaccine in light of the findings.
Meanwhile, he said, the government will offer vaccines produced by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer in the coming weeks.
Moderna’s early results suggest its vaccine is still effective against the variant in South Africa, while AstraZeneca said the vaccine provides good protection against the British variant, first identified late last year.
Early results also suggest that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine protects against new variants.