Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has moved to calm fears that health-care workers will be used as “guinea pigs” as the government has moved to fast-track the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
This comes as the government has already halted the use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine which was initially expected to be rolled out to thousands of health-care workers this week.
The country received its ordered 1 million doses of the vaccine last week from the Serum Institute of India.
Since then, research released by Wits University has shown disappointing results on the vaccine’s ability to provide protection against the coronavirus variant first identified in the country in November.
Mkhize, along with a group of scientists, addressed the nation on Sunday night on the latest vaccine procurement news.
Professor Shabir Madhi from Wits University said research conducted on vaccine participants had shown that the AstraZeneca vaccine’s ability to prevent mild to moderate effects of Covid-19 was diminished when tested against the 501Y.V2 variant. This is the most dominant variant in the country at present.
The results of the research, which was conducted on more than 2 000 participants last year, showed that the AstraZeneca vaccine was only 22% effective against the new strain.
Madhi described the news as disappointing. However, he pointed out that it was not all doom and gloom as there were other vaccines that had shown promise against the 501Y.V2 variant.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was one of them, having shown itself to be 57% effective in preventing the severe effects of the virus and also in helping to protect against hospitalisation and death.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine protects against severe disease and hospitalisation and death with the current variant. We have data from South Africa that shows that we can use this vaccine to protect against death and hospitalisation.
“And we are looking at further data about how this vaccine impacts on mild disease. It is a silver bullet. Yes, it won’t protect against the sniffles, but it will protect against death and hospitalisation,” she said.
Gray and Mkhize insisted that there would be ongoing monitoring of the vaccine’s effectiveness.
Deputy director-general at the Health Department Dr Anban Pillay said the department was in contact with the Serum Institute of India over the six-month expiry date of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
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