“The AstraZeneca vaccine appeared to be effective against the original strain but not the variant,” said Mkhize. “We have decided to temporarily stop the introduction of the vaccine … more work needs to be done.”
The study, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, involved 2,000 people, most of whom were young and healthy. The average age of the volunteers was 31 years.
“The protection against moderate illness, hospitalization or death could not be assessed in this study because the target group was exposed to such a low risk,” said a statement from the University of Oxford and the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg.
Scientists will study whether or not the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective in preventing serious illness and death against the variant, Mkhize said.
Other vaccines have shown decreased effectiveness against the variant, but offer good protection against serious illness and death.
Public health officials are concerned about the South African variant because it contains a mutation of the virus’ signature spike protein, which existing vaccines are targeting. South African officials say the variant is more contagious and there is evidence that it could be more virulent.
South Africa is urgent to introduce other vaccines in order to vaccinate as many as possible in the coming months, Mkhize said. Other South African scientists said Sunday that clinical trials for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine are showing good results against the variant.
The initial results for the AstraZeneca vaccine against the variant could have far-reaching implications as many other countries in Africa and beyond have planned to use the AstraZeneca shot. The international COVAX initiative has purchased the AstraZeneca vaccine in bulk from the Serum Institute of India.
The Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developers expect to have a modified prick to deal with the South African variant of coronavirus by the fall, the vaccine’s lead researcher said on Sunday.
Sarah Gilbert, lead researcher on the Oxford team, told the BBC on Sunday: “We have a version in the works with the South African spike sequence.”
“It is very likely that we will have a new version available in the fall,” she added.
Authorities in England went door-to-door last week to conduct COVID-19 tests in eight areas the South African variant is believed to be spreading after a handful of cases were found in people who had no contact with the country, or in people who did travel there.
More than 100 cases of the South African variant have been found in the UK. The test flash is an attempt to wipe out the variant before it becomes widespread and undermines the vaccination rollout in the UK.
The UK has seen the deadliest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, with over 112,000 confirmed deaths, but has launched a vaccination schedule faster than the neighboring European Union. To date, the UK has given an initial coronavirus vaccine to around 11.5 million people.