Health experts: AstraZeneca vaccine expires in April, offers less protection against variant

Health experts: COVID-19 vaccine won't be active against new variant

Health experts have been explaining why the jabs, meant for phase 1 of the country's COVID vaccination programme, failed to prevent mild and moderate cases of the new virus variant.

Vaccine shot

WITS Professor, Shabir Madhi unpacked the results of a study on AstraZeneca in South Africa. 

2 000 volunteers with no severe underlying comorbidities took part to establish the vaccine's safety. Madhi says the results were examined 14 days after their second dose. 

He says the vaccine trials before the emergence of the mutated virus showed promising results, but that changed once the new variant was detected. 

"Inadvertently, because of the timing of when we had to enrol participants into the study and when they were exposed to the virus most forcefully, what ended up happening. Is that 95% of all the individuals we were able to analyse in our primary objective of determining whether the vaccine protects against COVID-19 after two doses were the result of infection due to the B1351 variant." 

Madhi says the study wasn't designed to determine the vaccine's efficacy in people with severe COVID. 

He says most of the vaccines available won't be active against the new variant because they were designed around the original virus.

"So, we can say we have not proven that this particular vaccine protects against COVID-19 and particularly COVID-19 which is a consequence of infection by the B1351 variant." 

"It is largely disappointing news but I need to emphasise again at this point, is that two-thirds of the COVID-19 cases in this particular study was due to mild infection and the others were due to moderate illness," he says. 

Meanwhile, the Health Department's Dr Anban Pillay says they're working on finding a solution, after realising that the one million AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccines we received from India will expire in April. 

"These vaccines have a 6-month expiry date, unfortunately, these vaccines came through with the expiry date in April which we only identified on arrival. So we engaged the institute on an extension on the date if that is possible, or an exchange on the stock so we can have vaccines with a longer expiry. So we just waiting for their response around that." 

Doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab were meant to be administered to our frontline healthcare workers - that process has been put on hold. 

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