In a study led by researchers from the South African University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford, the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine has been found to have “minimal protection” against mild to moderate cases of the South African Covid-19 variant.

 The vaccine’s efficacy against moderate-severe infection, hospitalisation or death could not be determined due to the study’s young demographic, with the average age of the some 2,000 participants being 31. The results were published by Oxford this week prior to the study’s scientific peer-review. 

As a result of the news South Africa have halted the rollout of the Oxford vaccine. The country were delivered 1m doses at the end of January – the first vaccines they had received, and had hoped to begin their immunisation programme shortly afterward.

However, Professor Shabir Madhi, who spearheaded the study, was optimistic about the Oxford vaccine’s ability to prevent severe cases of the South African variant. He noted that a similar vaccine, produced by Johnson & Johnson, reduced severe infection by 89%. Professor Madhi is Director of the Vaccines & Infectious Diseases Analytics research unit at Witwatersrand.

The Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine was announced by the University in December to have an efficacy of 90% against the original coronavirus variant after a full then half dose. Subsequently, research by the Oxford AstraZeneca team concluded that it remained effective against the Kent variant, the dominant variant in the UK.

Sarah Gilbert, Professor of Vaccinology at Oxford, has said that new variants are being tackled by vaccine modifications, commenting that “efforts are underway to develop a new generation of vaccines that will allow protection to be redirected to emerging variants as booster jabs, if it turns out it is necessary to do so.” As of February 8th, there were 147 cases of the South African variant in the UK. The UK imposed a travel ban on South Africa in December, adding 9 other southern African countries to it this week.

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