South Africa Suspends AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 Vaccine

South Africa has suspended its rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by AstraZeneca-Oxford due to “disappointing” results that showed “minimal protection” against the more contagious variant of the virus first identified in the country.

“We have decided to put a temporary hold on the rollout of the vaccine. More work needs to be done,” South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said during a media briefing on Feb. 7.

The announcement came after initial trials conducted by the Wits Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics Research Unit of the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg showed “minimal protection against mild-moderate COVID-19 infection from the B.1.351 coronavirus variant.”

The data from the study, which involved around 2,000 people, has yet to be scientifically peer-reviewed, but Witwatersran University said that the early results appeared to confirm the theory that mutations of the virus will continue to transmit even in vaccinated populations.

The South African government had planned to start using the AstraZeneca-Oxford COVID-19 vaccine to inoculate its frontline healthcare workers from mid-February after receiving one million doses earlier this month. Instead, it will use the vaccines developed by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer-BioNTech in the coming weeks.

Mkhize also said that a committee of scientists will further study the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine and will give advice on how the doses can be deployed.

“We are working with AstraZeneca to optimize the pipeline required for a strain change should one become necessary. This is the same issue that is faced by all of the vaccine developers, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in readiness for a future strain change,” Vaccinology Professor Sarah Gilbert of Oxford University said in a statement.

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