South Africa on Monday halted the planned distribution of AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccines after data showed it provided minimal protection against mild infection from one variant, fueling fears of a much longer battle with the pathogen.
As is well known, the coronavirus has killed 2.3 million people and turned normal life upside down for billions more, but new variants have raised fears that vaccines will need to be “adjusted” and people may need to get “boosting vaccines”.
According to Reuters, researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said in an earlier analysis to colleagues that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the so-called South African variant among young people.
“This study confirms that pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected,” said Andrew Pollard, chief investigator at Oxford vaccine testing.
“But given the promising results from other studies in South Africa using a similar viral vector, vaccines can continue to ease the burden on healthcare systems by preventing serious illness.”
South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday that the spread would be stopped and that the government would wait for advice from scientists on how to do better.
The AstraZeneca vaccine was a great hope for Africa as it is cheaper and easier to store and transport than Pfizer.
An analysis of infections from the South African variant showed that there was only a 22% lower risk of developing mild to moderate COVID-19 compared to those given a placebo.
And if vaccines do not work as effectively as hoped against the new variants, then the world could face a much longer and more expensive battle than previously thought.
Protection against “severe and moderate illness”, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in the study as the target population was at such a low risk, the researchers said.
However, as thousands of individual changes are born as the virus evolves into new variants, only a small minority is likely to be significant or change the virus significantly, according to the British Medical Journal