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Home Science South Africa rethinks plans after variant evades AstraZeneca vaccine

South Africa rethinks plans after variant evades AstraZeneca vaccine

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People queue for taxis in South Africa, the place the B.1.351 coronavirus variant was first recognized

Waldo Swiegers/Bloomberg by way of Getty Images

On 1 February, there was pleasure in South Africa when 1 million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine arrived within the nation. On 7 February, the well being minister introduced that the roll-out of the vaccine could be placed on maintain after a small research instructed that it doesn’t forestall delicate or average diseases attributable to the B.1.351 variant chargeable for nearly all covid-19 instances within the nation.

“These results are very much a reality check,” Shabir Madhi on the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa mentioned throughout a video convention asserting the findings.


The discovering is worrying, not least as a result of the B.1.351 variant is now spreading in a number of different nations together with the UK and US. The variety of detected instances outdoors of South Africa stays very low in most locations however Austria has discovered almost 300, main the neighbouring German state of Bavaria to threaten to shut the border. The UK has stepped up testing to attempt to halt its unfold.

It additionally appears that previous an infection by different coronavirus variants confers no safety in opposition to delicate or average infections by B.1.351, mentioned Madhi. In a research of individuals given a placebo throughout a trial for a vaccine made by Novavax, the an infection fee was simply as excessive in those that examined optimistic for antibodies as in those that had none.

However, it’s possible that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine does nonetheless defend in opposition to extreme illness attributable to the B.1.351 variant, mentioned Madhi.

South Africa could now roll out vaccines in a step-wise method, giving every new vaccine to about 100,000 individuals after which checking what the hospitalisation fee is, mentioned Salim Abdool Karim, who heads the nation’s advisory committee on covid-19. “We can still proceed with our roll-out, but we need to do it wisely,” mentioned Karim.

Madhi identified that another vaccines have already been proven to be efficient in opposition to B.1.351. “It’s not all doom and gloom,” he mentioned.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is efficient in opposition to most different coronavirus variants, together with the fast-spreading B.1.1.7 variant first detected within the UK. An evaluation of outcomes from ongoing trials within the UK means that the vaccine is about 74 per cent efficient at stopping symptomatic infections on account of B.1.1.7, in contrast with 85 per cent for different variants.

A separate evaluation of ongoing trials within the UK, Brazil and South Africa concluded {that a} single dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is 76 per cent efficient at stopping symptomatic infections between 22 and 90 days after vaccination. A second dose 12 weeks or extra after the primary boosts this to 84 per cent.

Unfortunately, the outcomes from one small ongoing trial of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine in South Africa aren’t so good. The trial started in June final yr, and outcomes from the primary months recommend that the vaccine was about 75 per efficient at stopping delicate or average instances. There had been no extreme instances, as a result of most volunteers had been younger and wholesome.

But as soon as B.1.351 began turning into the dominant pressure in October, there was no statistically important distinction in outcomes between these given the vaccine and people given a placebo, mentioned Madhi. In different phrases, plainly the vaccine isn’t efficient in opposition to B.1.351, however as a result of the numbers are so low – simply 1750 volunteers and 42 symptomatic instances – there are big uncertainties.

The good news is that South African trials of coronavirus vaccines made by Novavax and Johnson & Johnson present that whereas they’re much less efficient in opposition to B.1.351 than in opposition to different variants, they’re each nonetheless round 60 per cent efficient at stopping delicate or average infections.

Crucially, the Johnson & Johnson one-dose vaccine is much more efficient in opposition to extreme illness. It is 85 per cent efficient at stopping extreme or important covid-19 in all nations the place it’s being trialled, with no decline on account of B.1.351, mentioned Glenda Gray, additionally on the University of the Witwatersrand. We don’t but know the equal determine in opposition to B.1.351 for every other vaccine.

The higher efficacy in opposition to extreme illness could also be as a result of though B.1.351 is ready to evade antibodies that forestall an infection within the first place, it may’t dodge the immune system’s T-cells, which assist mop up infections.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine hasn’t but been accepted to be used wherever on the planet, however the plan is now to enormously broaden the continuing trial in South Africa to incorporate healthcare staff, mentioned Gray.

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Article amended on
9 February 2021

Correction: We have corrected the date on which the South African well being minister introduced the coverage change.

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