Health & Science

AstraZeneca vaccine: South Africa preferred selling its doses

After some concerns emerged around the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, the South African authorities decided to sell their 1.5 million doses to African countries who expressed an interest in getting them.

AstraZeneca vaccine
Credits: Marco Verch

Efficacy concerns from a small study

South Africa had secured 1.5 million doses of the Oxford University-AstraZeneca vaccine for its population.

A month ago, the medicine flew from the Serum Institute of India and a batch of 1 million vaccines were received by President Cyril Ramaphosa and Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize themselves. The country expected another delivery of 500,000 doses.

Those were supposed to be administered to healthcare and front-line workers in priority.

But that was before concerns emerged about its efficacy on the variant from South Africa.

A small study led by the university of Witwatersrand of Johannesburg pointed out that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine had limited efficacy against mild and moderate symptoms caused by the dominant variant in the country.

Trials were conducted on 2,000 people with a median age of 31. The preliminary results released on February 7 were not peer-reviewed yet. Moreover, the efficacy was not tested on severe forms of the B.1.351 variant due to the small sample size. "Protection against moderate-severe disease, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study as the target population was at low risk."

On February 10, 2021, the WHO issued interim guidance and recommended the use of the vaccine "even if variants are present in a country".

Yet, South Africa decided not to use it at all.

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