South Africa has put its roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on hold after a study showed “disappointing” results against its new Covid variant.
The study, conducted by the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg and not yet peer reviewed, concluded that the British vaccine offered only “limited protection against moderate forms of the disease caused by the South African variant, in young adults.”
The news was a blow to South Africa, which has seen more than 46,000 people die from the virus
Scientists say the strain accounts for 90% of new Covid cases in South Africa.
The study, involving around 2,000 people, found the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of Covid-19.
South Africa has received 1m doses of the AstraZeneca jab and was due to start vaccinating people next week.
Speaking at an online news conference on Sunday, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said his government would wait for further advice on how best to proceed with the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine in light of the findings. The trial was carried out by the University of the Witwatersrand but has not yet been peer reviewed.
“Unfortunately, the AstraZeneca vaccine does not work against mild and moderate illness,” Prof Shabir Madhi, who led the study, told the briefing.
AstraZeneca said on Saturday that it believed its vaccine could protect against severe disease and that it had already started adapting it against the 501Y.V2 variant.
Still, professor Shabir Madhi, lead investigator on the AstraZeneca trial in South Africa, said data on the vaccine were a reality check and that it was time to “recalibrate our expectations of COVID-19 vaccines”.