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South Africa scraps AstraZeneca vaccine, will give J&J jabs

The J&J vaccine will be used to launch the first phase of South Africa’s campaign in which the country’s 1.25 million health workers will be inoculated, Mkhize said, adding that the workers will be closely monitored.

February 10, 2021 / 03:37 PM IST
File image: AP

File image: AP

South Africa will give the unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine to its front-line health workers beginning next week as a study to see what protection it provides from COVID-19, particularly against the variant dominant there, the health minister said Wednesday.

Zweli Mkhize said South Africa has scrapped plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because it “does not prevent mild to moderate disease” of the variant.

The one-shot J&J vaccine is still being tested internationally and has not been approved in any country.

But Mkhize, in a nationally broadcast address, declared that the vaccine is safe, relying on tests of 44,000 people done in South Africa, the United States and Latin America.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

Frequently Asked Questions

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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The J&J vaccine will be used to launch the first phase of South Africa’s campaign in which the country’s 1.25 million health workers will be inoculated, he said, adding that the workers will be closely monitored.

“The Johnson & Johnson vaccine has been proven effective against the 501Y.V2 variant and the necessary approval processes for use in South Africa are underway,” he said. The J&J vaccine has been in clinical tests in South Africa and is in production here, under contract from J&J.

Those shots will be followed by a campaign to vaccinate an estimated 40 million people in South Africa by the end of the year. The country will also be using the Pfizer vaccine and others, possibly including the Russian Sputnik V, Chinese Sinopharm and Moderna vaccines, Mkhize said.

South Africa had purchased 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, produced by the Serum Institute of India, and the first million doses arrived this month. The first AstraZeneca shots had been meant for front-line health workers.

The locally dominant variant is more contagious and drove a resurgence of COVID-19 that caused nearly twice the cases, hospitalizations and deaths experienced in the initial surge of the disease in South Africa.

South Africa and many other African and poor countries had looked to the AstraZeneca vaccine as it is cheaper and does not require storage in ultra-cold freezers. It is also being produced in large quantities in India for shipment elsewhere.

An added complication for South Africa is that its AstraZeneca doses arrived with an April 30 expiration date. South Africa is looking to swap them, Mkhize said.

South Africa by far has the largest number of COVID-19 cases on the African continent with nearly 1.5 million confirmed, including almost 47,000 deaths. That represents 41% of the total for all 54 nations in Africa.

After a resurgence that spiked in early January, cases and deaths are now declining, but medical experts are already warning that South Africa should prepare for another upsurge in May or June, the start of the Southern Hemisphere's winter.

Follow our full coverage of the coronavirus pandemic here.

Associated Press
first published: Feb 10, 2021 03:37 pm

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