S.Africa halts AstraZeneca vaccine drive after preliminary trials

CAPE TOWN, Feb 8 (Agencies): South Africa has suspended plans to inoculate its front-line health care workers with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a small clinical trial suggested that it isn’t effective in preventing mild to moderate illness from the variant dominant in the country.South Africa received its first 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine last week and was expected to begin giving jabs to health care workers in mid-February.
The disappointing early results indicate that an inoculation drive using the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be useful.Preliminary data from a small study suggested that the AstraZeneca vaccine offers only “minimal protection against mild-moderate disease” caused by the variant in South Africa.The variant appears more infectious and is driving a deadly resurgence of the disease in the country, currently accounting for more than 90 per cent of the COVID-19 cases, health minister Zweli Mkhize said Sunday night.“The AstraZeneca vaccine appeared effective against the original strain, but not against the variant,” Mkhize said.
“We have decided to put a temporary hold on the rollout of the vaccine … more work needs to be done.”The study, which hasn’t yet been peer-reviewed, involved 2,000 people, most of whom were young and healthy. The volunteers’ average age was 31.“Protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalisation or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population were at such low risk,” said a statement issued by Oxford University and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.

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