By Ahmed Rahma
A month after it suspended the use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccines for COVID-19, South Africa has sold its doses of the vaccine to the African Union (AU).
On Sunday, the country’s Ministry of Health disclosed that the sale of the vaccine to the union has been concluded.
Recall that Business Post had earlier reported that the country suspended the use of the vaccine over its inability to protect patients against the variant discovered in the country.
In the report, South Africa claimed test results showed that the vaccine did not protect clinical-trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious COVID-19 virus variant (B.1.351) that was first seen there.
It was not clear from the studies whether the vaccine protected against severe disease from the B.1.351 variant.
The clinical trial participants, who were evaluated, were relatively young and unlikely to become severely ill, making it impossible for the scientists to determine if the variant interfered with the vaccine’s ability to protect against severe COVID-19, hospitalisations or deaths.
Based on the immune responses detected in blood samples from people who were given the vaccine, the scientists said they believed that the vaccine could yet protect against more severe cases.
South African health officials had said they would consider resuming the use of the vaccine if further studies show that it could yet protect against more severe cases.
Already, the vaccine showed minimal efficacy in preventing mild and moderate cases of the new variant, added to the mounting evidence that B.1.351 makes current vaccines less effective.
Official confirms sale
In a statement made available to newsmen yesterday, the Ministry said vaccine procured by the country earlier this year was found to have limited efficacy against mild and moderate disease caused by the COVID-19 variant dominant in the country.
“In the past weeks, the department has had to ensure that all member states identified by the AU vaccine acquisition team as recipients of the vaccines are compliant and have obtained all regulatory approvals, permits and licences to roll out the vaccines in their respective countries,” according to health minister Lwazi Mkhize.
He said the full purchase amount for the vaccines was received by the department last Monday.
“The AU and SA teams then ensured that all logistical arrangements are in place for the shipment of the vaccines,” he added.
Mr Mkhize said the first batch of vaccines that will be delivered will benefit nine member states, adding that, “The balance will be collected this week to be delivered to five other countries.”
About the South African Variant
B.1.351 emerged independently of B.1.1.7 (The variant first discovered in the UK with a large number of mutations in the fall of 2020 which spreads faster than any other variant). Originally detected in early October 2020, B.1.351 shares some mutations with B.1.1.7. Cases caused by this variant have been reported in the US at the end of January 2021.
The B.1.351 is also known to cause lower efficacy with the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines though the vaccines are still protective,
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