South Africa will next month receive 20 million vaccine doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, but its efficacy rate against the dominant COVID-19 variant found in South Africa is not conclusive, says vice-president for Research at the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), Professor Jeffrey Mphahlele.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) recently approved the emergency use for this vaccine and hopes that rollout can begin as soon as it arrives in the country.

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Mphahlele says the vaccine is a two-dose jab, which needs to be taken three weeks apart.

“In phase three clinical trial testing. The test shows 95% efficacy. Obviously, that was before the emergence of the new strain in SA. We don’t know much about the clinical efficacy against the variant that is dominant and circulating in SA. We do know that if you do the testing in the lab there is diminished neutralisation activity against the variant,” Mphahlele says.

The news comes as a South African study of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine trial has indicated that the vaccine does not have the required 60% efficacy against the variant of the coronavirus found in the country.

South Africa suspended the rollout of the vaccine in February after a trial, conducted in about 2 000 people, found a low efficacy against mild and moderate disease to be under 25%.

However, scientists were still hopeful it could still prevent severe disease and death.

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South Africa is currently rolling out the single dose Johnson and Johnson vaccine to healthcare workers across the country.

The vaccine has been shown to have efficacy against the strain of the virus found in South Africa. Doses of the J&J vaccine have been arriving every Saturday in South Africa for the last few weeks.

Teachers will be vaccinated against COVID-19 from April this year when the second phase of the country’s nationwide campaign kicks off.