Rollout of AstraZeneca Covid-19 Vaccine Halted in South Africa After Study

Source: WSJ

By Gabriele Steinhauser

Small clinical trial found that it doesn’t appear to protect recipients against mild and moderate illness from a fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus

JOHANNESBURG—South Africa said Sunday it would temporarily halt a planned rollout of AstraZeneca PLC’s Covid-19 vaccine after a small clinical trial found that it doesn’t appear to protect recipients against mild and moderate illness from a fast-spreading new strain of the coronavirus first detected in the country.

The trial, which enrolled around 2,000 volunteers with a median age of 31 in South Africa, was too small and its participants too young to draw broad conclusions on the vaccine’s overall efficacy in protecting against the disease caused by the coronavirus, especially when it comes to hospitalizations or death. However, its findings contribute to concerns that a mutating virus is rendering existing Covid-19 vaccines less effective and that shots will need to be updated to protect against new virus strains.

Of the 39 volunteers in the AstraZeneca trial that were found to be infected with the new South African variant, 19 had received the vaccine, while 20 had received a placebo, said Shabir Madhi, the trial’s principal investigator and dean of the medical school at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. Those numbers would imply an efficacy rate of around 10% at protecting against mild and moderate Covid-19 from the new variant, said Dr. Madhi, although he added that the data were too limited to be statistically significant.

After the results were announced, South Africa’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said the country would temporarily halt a planned rollout of the vaccine until there was more information on the vaccine’s efficacy. The country had planned to administer a first shipment of one million doses of the vaccine to health-care workers later this month.

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5 replies

  1. South Africa halted use of the AstraZeneca-Oxford coronavirus vaccine on Sunday after evidence emerged that the vaccine did not protect clinical-trial participants from mild or moderate illness caused by the more contagious virus variant that was first seen there.

    The findings were a devastating blow to the country’s efforts to combat the pandemic.

    Scientists in South Africa said on Sunday that a similar problem held among people who had been infected by earlier versions of the coronavirus: the immunity they acquired naturally did not appear to protect them from mild or moderate cases when reinfected by the variant, known as B.1.351.

    The developments, coming nearly a week after a million doses of the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine arrived in South Africa, were an enormous setback for the country, where more than 46,000 people are known to have died from the virus. And they were another sign of the dangers posed by new mutations in the coronavirus. The B.1.351 variant has already spread to at least 32 countries, including the United States.

    It was not clear from the studies outlined by South African scientists on Sunday whether the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine protected against severe disease from the B.1.351 variant.

  2. BERLIN: Germany is in talks with BioNTech and other COVID-19 vaccine makers about possible funding to help them secure capacity and raw materials, Health Minister Jens Spahn tweeted on Saturday. (Feb 6)

    The discussions follow a government “vaccine summit” this week with state leaders and representatives of pharmaceutical companies and the European Commission to discuss progress in vaccinating the population.

    Delays to the European Union’s vaccine rollout and concern about new coronavirus variants make it harder for European governments to ease current pandemic restrictions.

    “At the Vaccine Summit, #BioNTech outlined a potential funding requirement of up to 400 million euros for reserving capacity and raw materials into next year. We are in exchange with the company to further firm this up,” Spahn tweeted.

    “We are also talking to other #vaccine manufacturers about this,” he added. “We want to secure sufficient capacity for Germany, Europe and the world for 2022 in case of problematic mutations or necessary booster vaccinations.”

    German Finance Minister Olaf Scholz said on Saturday he was angry that more COVID-19 vaccines were not ordered last year as EU chief executive Ursula von der Leyen renewed her defence of the European Commission’s record on rolling them out.

  3. President Joe Biden won’t commit to achieving herd immunity to the coronavirus in the U.S. by the end of summer, suggesting a long road ahead to defeating the deadly virus.

    “The idea that this can be done and we can get to herd immunity much before the end of this summer is very difficult,” the Democrat said in an interview broadcast on CBS on Sunday ahead of the Super Bowl.

    The comment came in response to prodding by journalist Norah O’Donnell, who said that at the current rate of about 1.3 million doses administered per day, it would take almost a year to vaccinate enough Americans to achieve herd immunity.

    The White House has set a goal of 100 million doses in Biden’s first 100 days as a minimum, though the pace of vaccinations is currently higher than that. Biden seemed to up his goal late last month by saying he thinks the U.S. could administer up to 1.5 million doses per day.

    Biden’s cautious remarks are in line with the warnings of scientists and public health officials as well as his past statements. They mark a reversal from the approach of Biden’s predecessor, former President Donald Trump, who often claimed that the end of the pandemic was around the corner.

    Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading epidemiologist, has said that it would require a minimum of 75% of the public to be inoculated against Covid-19 to achieve herd immunity. He has predicted a return to normal some time next fall.

    Biden also said during the interview that he was exploring new ways to vaccinate more Americans more quickly.

    He said he supported a proposal from the National Football League to use its 30 stadiums as mass vaccination centers, but stopped short of committing to the plan.

  4. Portugal’s Directorate-General for Health said that until new data is available, AstraZeneca Plc’s Covid-19 vaccine should be “preferably” used for people age 65 and younger.

    In no situation should the vaccination of older people be delayed if only the AstraZeneca vaccine is available, the Directorate-General of Health said on Monday in a statement posted on its website.

    Portugal has already been administering Pfizer-BioNTech SE and Moderna Inc. vaccines.

  5. Professor Pouton believes it could happen quicker.

    “I don’t actually agree with that assessment,” he said.

    “Australia is very capable of making an mRNA vaccine … we can utilise facilities that we already have.”

    Ms Andrews said an audit identified “some companies in Australia with mRNA production capability.

    “We are currently working with them to explore if that capability could be scaled up into the future,” she said.

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    But the Government is yet to confirm any details on funding, logistics or a timeline for action.

    Its Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) statement in December mentioned funding to “develop a business case to inform future investments in onshore mRNA platform-based vaccine manufacturing capability and capacity”.

    Again, no dollars were attached, citing “commercial sensitivities”.

    “Producing mRNA vaccines at scale is a brand new challenge the entire world is grappling with and will take time to develop,” Ms Andrews said.

    Professor Pouton said scaling up production was feasible because of the low amounts of mRNA required by the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines — 30 micrograms and 100 micrograms per dose, respectively.

    “30 micrograms means that if you make 30 grams [of mRNA], you have a million doses,” he said.

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