South Africa stops Astra shot amid fears it does not stop mild illness
LONDON (UK) – South Africa stopped the rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccinations after it was shown in data that it provides minimal protection against mild infection that arise out of one variant. It evoked fears of a much longer battle with the pathogen.
Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said in a prior-to-peer analysis that the AstraZeneca vaccine gave minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the South African variant among young people.
Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial, said, “This study confirms that the pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected.”
“But, taken with the promising results from other studies in South Africa using a similar viral vector, vaccines may continue to ease the toll on health care systems by preventing severe disease.”
The AstraZeneca vaccine had instilled hope among people in Africa, as it was easier to store and transport than the Pfizer vaccine. Hence, bringing its rollout in South Africa to a halt comes as a major blow.
An analysis of infections caused by the South African variant showed there was only a 22% lower risk of developing mild-to-moderate COVID-19 when compared to those given a placebo.
According to the British Medical Journal, while there has been thousands of individual changes, even as the virus mutates and evolves into new variants, only a minority are likely to have a significance or change the virus in a considerable way,
While the lead investigator on the trial said that recent data indicated that protection against severe disease was possible out of the vaccine, the study highlighted the prospect of vaccinations repetitively against a changing virus.
Professor Shabir Madhi, lead investigator on the AstraZeneca trial in South Africa, said as the vaccine bears similarity to another one produced by Johnson & Johnson, which led to the severe disease being reduced by 89%, hinted that it would still cure one of the serious illness or death.
“There’s still some hope that the AstraZeneca vaccine might well perform as well as the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in a different age group demographic that I address of severe disease,” he told BBC radio.
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said efforts were in progress to manufacture a new generation of booster shot vaccines, which will in turn allow protection against emerging variants.
“This is the same issue that is faced by all of the vaccine developers, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in readiness for a future strain change,” she said.
A junior health minister said on Monday that the Astrazeneca COVID-19 vaccine works against death and serious illness and has efficacy against the main variants of the virus in the UK, though it might be important for people to have a booster shot as it mutates.
British junior health minister Edward Argar told Sky, “There is no evidence that this vaccine is not effective in preventing hospitalisation and severe illness and death, which ultimately is what we’re seeking with these vaccines today.”
“The dominant strains in this country are not the South African strain, there are a small number of cases of that, the dominant strains here are the historic one we’ve had, and then the Kent variant, against which this vaccine is highly effective.”
Argar said just 147 people had been found to have been infected with the South African variant in Britain, though he pointed out that booster shots, such as against the common flu, might be required in the future, even as there is a mutation of the virus.
“It would be just be normal in a sense as we did with the flu vaccine to update it to catch anything the virus is trying to do to keep ahead of it,” he said.