The SAMJ editorial warned that there were unlikely to be available alternatives to the AZ vaccine in SA in the next few months.
First author and infectious diseases specialist Professor Francois Venter, head of Ezintsha at Wits Health Sciences, and the co-authors wrote that the AZ vaccine’s diminished protection against mild to moderate Covid-19 caused by the variant was no reason to reject the vaccine — which had proven effective against severe disease caused by the original (ancestry) virus.
President of the SA Medical Research Council Prof Glenda Gray said of the AstraZeneca efficacy against severe Covid-19 caused by the variant: “This is a data free zone. We do not know yet if it will work or it will not work. There are compelling reasons to take a leap of faith, and compelling reasons not to.
“You have to have evidence and we do not yet have the evidence. We lack the evidence to forge ahead,” she said, adding there was no clear right and wrong position, just opinions at this time.
The AZ’s effectiveness against the variant in SA has not been proven but neither has it been proven for Pfizer, but SA has ordered 20 million doses of the more expensive Pfizer vaccine.
“SA’s muddled procurement strategy is further demonstrated by the commitment to buy 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, for which there is no clinical evidence of efficacy against the B. 1.351 variant,” read the editorial.
“We agree with the decision to purchase the Pfizer vaccine, but the national department of health must concede that it then makes a mockery of the argument that we cannot use the AZ vaccine because of a lack of data against severe disease caused by this same B. 1.351 variant.”
“The Pfizer vaccine, like most other first-generation Covid-19 vaccines, is likely to confer high levels of protection against severe Covid-19, even caused by the B. 1.351 variant.”