Between 350,000 and 500,000 health workers in South Africa are to be given the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, a top government medical adviser said, amid concerns over the AstraZeneca jab’s efficacy against the local strain.
The government is hoping to take delivery of around 80,000 doses every seven to 14 days as part of its role in a global J&J “implementation study,” the president of the South African Medical Research Council, Glenda Gray, told Reuters.
Gray is the co-lead investigator of the South Africa part of the study, which will further scrutinize the J&J jab in a similar way to Phase IIIB studies, which gather more data on the efficacy of new drugs while regulators make their decision on approval.
The one-shot jab has been tested on 43,000 people in global Phase III trials, including 6,500 people in South Africa, where it was deemed 57 percent effective against Covid-19 and, crucially, was also found to protect against the local variant of the virus.
Last week, the country suspended its rollout of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford after a study suggested that the jab was not effective against the so-called South African variant, 501.V2.
The South Africa-based study of 2,000 people, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that the AstraZeneca jab did not protect against “mild-moderate Covid-19” illness caused by the 501.V2 variant.
The government is now using a limited “stepped” rollout of the vaccine to give the AstraZeneca vaccine to just 100,000 people so its efficacy can be tested further.
On Wednesday, South African health minister Zweli Mkhize confirmed that the public would start to be given the yet-to-be-approved J&J vaccine from next week.
He also said that if the “implementation study” of the J&J jab, which is delivered in a single dose, showed it worked against the 501.V2 variant then the government would “consider” selling its doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The country received some 1 million doses last week and is due to get another 500,000 in the next few weeks.
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