During Sunday’s testimony, South African Health Minister Dr. Zweli Mkhize said the suspension would be temporary as scientists figure out how to deploy AstraZeneca vaccine more effectively. Mkhize said South Africa will press ahead with vaccines made by Pfizer / BioNTech and Johnson & Johnson.
Early data released on Sunday indicates that two doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine provided “minimal protection” against mild and moderate Covid-19 from the variant first identified in South Africa.
The study, which has not yet been published, included about 2,000 volunteers with an average age of 31 years. About half of them got the vaccine and the other half got a placebo, which does nothing
Details of the study, conducted by researchers from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa and others, as well as from the University of Oxford, were shared in a press release. Oxford said the results have been submitted for peer review and a preliminary version will be released soon.
In a statement Sunday, a spokesperson for AstraZeneca said the company is “working closely with the South African Department of Health on how best to support the assessment against severe disease for the B.1.351 variant, and to begin bringing this vaccine to South Africa. People must prove their success”.
The company believes its vaccine will still protect against severe disease from the new variant B.1.351, the statement said, especially when the dosing period is eight to 12 weeks.
In a previous statement, the company said it was working with the University of Oxford to adapt the vaccine against the B.1.351 variant so that it would be ready for delivery in the fall if needed.
Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s chief technical officer for Covid-19, said Sunday that the WHO Independent Vaccine Committee will meet on Monday to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine and what the new study means for the future.
“Some preliminary studies indicate less efficacy. But again, these studies are not yet fully published,” Van Kerkhove said on CBS’s “Face the Nation”.
She added that it is important to have more than one safe and effective vaccine: “We cannot rely on only one product.”