Health officials in the African Union (AU) have said states without the South African strain of Covid-19 should use AstraZeneca’s vaccine, insisting the bloc was not abandoning the jab, in spite on concerns about its efficacy.
A supply of 100 million AstraZeneca’s vaccine, set to be received this year by the AU, will still be used and distributed among countries across the continent, John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virtual press conference on Thursday.
For now, our strategy is not to throw away our 100 million doses, but rather to target countries that, as we indicated, have not reported cases of that specific variant.
“You still have an extensive number of countries that can benefit from those vaccines, so we will not be walking away from AstraZeneca vaccines at all,” the official added, revealing that only six countries on the continent other than South Africa had reported cases of the extra-contagious variant of the virus.
South Africa halted its mass vaccination campaign using the AstraZeneca solution over the weekend, after a scientific study raised concerns over its effectiveness. The research by South Africa’s University of the Witwatersrand and the UK’s Oxford University showed the AstraZeneca jab fared poorly against the more contagious variant. However, the research is not peer-reviewed yet and has been criticized by some experts over its limited scope.
The vaccination campaign stalled just a few days after its launch. South Africa received its first 100-million-dose batch of AstraZeneca jabs, manufactured by the Serum Institute of India, only last week. While the efficacy of the vaccine against the local strain is now under scrutiny, the country is set to receive a further 500,000 doses in the coming weeks.
The fate of the South African AstraZeneca stockpile remains unclear, yet the country’s authorities have already expressed a readiness to either sell it off or swap it for vaccines produced by other manufacturers. South Africa said it has been preparing to begin small-scale pilot rollouts of coronavirus shots by Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer.
So far, South Africa has recorded the highest number of Covid-19 infections and deaths of all African nations. Its case tally is nearing the 1.5 million mark, and its death toll is hovering at around 47,000.
The African Union has agreed deals with AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson to supply some 670 million doses of their vaccines to the bloc. It also expects to receive some 600 million doses this year via the World Health Organisation’s Covax scheme.
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