AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out in South Africa to be postponed

NETHERLANDS - 2020/11/29: In this photo illustration, a man holds a syringe with a fake Covid-19 vaccine with the AstraZeneca logo in the background. (Photo Illustration by Robin Utrecht/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

South Africa said Sunday the roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine in the country will be temporarily put on hold until more “clinically efficacy information” of the vaccine against new COVID-19 variants becomes available.

“It’s a temporary issue that we have to hold onto AstraZeneca until we figure out these issues, what are the next steps supposed to be,” Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told a media briefing.

Mkhize’s remarks came after a study showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was less effective against a new variant found in South Africa which was behind the second wave of the pandemic in the country.

“The results suggest that the variant has significantly reduced the effectiveness of the vaccine on mild to moderate infection, and we are uncertain about the impact the vaccine will have on hospitalization, severe diseases and deaths,” said Mkhize.

Scientists are working to “figure out what approach we are going to use in order to effectively deploy the AstraZeneca vaccines,” the minister said.

A total of 1 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses arrived in South Africa on February 1 and will expire in April. The government had intended to roll them out to healthcare workers this week.

Scientists at the briefing said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was effective against the new variant found in South Africa.

Mkhize said an update would be given as for when this vaccine would arrive in the country. He also said the government was holding talks with a number of manufacturers and vaccines from different countries were being considered.