Health Minister, Dr Zweli Mkhize says the rollout of South Africa’s COVID-19 vaccination programme will be tweaked to include an implementation study.

This comes as research shows that the AstraZeneca vaccine has 22% efficacy in preventing mild to moderate cases of the COVID-19 501Y.V2 variant.

Last week, President Cyril Ramaphosa received one million doses of the British drug with hopes of rolling it out to health workers later in February.

In the video below, President Cyril Ramaphosa and Deputy President David Mabuza received the COVID-19 vaccine:

 

Mkhize defended the purchase saying the drug’s early study proved efficient and it was the most available given the urgency of South Africa’s rising cases.

He says now the vaccine rollout will continue but now as a research study.

“We are going to have to align our research bodies together with the vaccine rollout network that we had already created between the two. Therefore there will be a platform to roll out the vaccination programme and initially, it will be led by an implementation study approach. Then as we move on it will be focusing on opening up to more and more people once those numbers needed in the study are fulfilled,” Minister explains.

Minister Zweli Mkhize gives an important update on COVID-19 vaccines:

Meanwhile, South Africa has recorded 2 435 coronavirus cases in the last 24-hours, bringing the total number of infections to 1 476 135.

The Department of Health says 110 more deaths have been registered, putting the national total at 46 290.

The technical lead on the South African trial of the AstraZeneca drug, Professor Shabir Madhi, says the country was prematurely euphoric as the variant has now presented a new challenge.

“We can say that we have not proven that this particular vaccine protects against COVID-19 …  which are the consequence of infection by the B.1351 variant. That is largely disappointing news. What I need to emphasise is that 2/3 of this study were due to mild infection and the other one-third was due to moderate illness. So what the data doesn’t tell us is whether it protects against severe disease,” explains Madhi.

Rollout of AstraZeneca vaccine suspended

The Chairperson of the Ministerial Advisory Committee on COVID-19 vaccines, Professor Barry Schoub, has suggested that the rollout of AstraZeneca’s vaccine should be suspended.

Prof Schoub says more studies on the vaccine need to be conducted.

“The AstraZeneca vaccine study Prof Madhi did, provides some rather disappointing initial studies. But as he pointed out, there may well still be an effective utilisation of AstraZeneca. For example, we need to look at the cell-mediated immune responses; we may need to look at a combination of AZ vaccine with other vaccines which may in fact give a synergistically good response. So I just think we need to maybe suspend the use of AstraZeneca, but investigate it more fully, can we utilise it more effectively?.”

Considering other vaccines

While authorities look further into how the AstraZeneca vaccines can be used, the government is now considering other vaccines – developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer – in the coming weeks.

The Johnson & Johnson Ad26 Janssen shows some positive results with the local variant.  President of the SA Medical Research Council, Professor Glenda Gray explains: