Guru Gyan
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Guru Gyan

The Story Of South Africa & AstraZeneca’s Vaccine

South Africa is putting a hold on use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine. Here’s what we know about it…

Just In

South African health officials on Sunday said that they are pausing the country’s rollout of AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine. South Africa Minister of Health Dr. Zweli Mkhize said the hold would be temporary.

Why Did This Happen?

South Africa has a new variant of coronavirus, which is called the 501Y.V2 variant. This variant caused a second wave of infections beginning late last year. Right now, a new analysis has found that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by South Africa’s dominant coronavirus variant.

Going Ahead

Last week, South Africa got its first 1 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and was anticipated to start giving shots to health care workers in mid-February. But now everything has been put on hold. However, this doesn’t mean South Africa is putting a hold to the entire vaccination programme. Instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the country will offer vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer/BioNTech in the coming weeks.

The Health Minister said that scientists will study whether the AstraZeneca vaccine works against the variant to prevent death and severe disease. He also said that South Africa will urgently roll out other vaccines to inoculate as many people as possible in the coming months.

Zooming Out

We want to highlight the two problems this entire incident presents. One is how problematic the South African coronavirus variant is. Many are worried about this variant because it includes a mutation of the coronavirus’s characteristic spike protein, which is targeted by current vaccines. South African officials said that this variant is more contagious and evidence is emerging that it may be more deadly.

The second problem is how AstraZeneca’s vaccine is raising more questions everywhere. This is not the first time people are questioning the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. Earlier in January, several Australian immunologists and the opposition Labor Party said that Canberra should ask for additional supplies of the BioNTech/Pfizer and Moderna vaccines than the Oxford/AstraZeneca one.

Andrew Miller, president of the Australian Medical Association in Western Australia, was quoted by FT, saying, “Until we get more data that shows that AstraZeneca is as good as the others, the scientific and medical risk that you take is that you won’t get herd immunity”. Even though the European Union and UK have given approval to AstraZeneca’s vaccine, FDA said it won’t consider approving it until a US clinical trial has been completed.

All in all, AstraZeneca’s vaccine is cheaper than the other ones but right now, the company has to make it better so that it becomes effective against more variants of the coronavirus. We have to wait and see how the company manages to do so in the future…

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