Johannesburg, South Africa The new Corona virusPose a greater risk than Britain’s chief health official warned on Monday. His warning came as scientists warned that the new strain sweeping through coastal communities in South Africa could be resistant to approved COVID-19 vaccines or await approval in the United States and Europe.
“I am very concerned about the South African alternative,” Health Minister Matt Hancock told BBC Radio. “This is a very important problem … It is a bigger problem than the new variant problem in the UK.”
The first doses of the Oxford University Vaccine AstraZeneca were outside clinical trialsThe chief immunologist at Oxford University, Professor John Bell – who helped create the prestigious university vaccine – said there was a “big question mark” about whether current versions of vaccines would work on the South African alternative.
He said it is “unlikely” that the mutation will render vaccines ineffective, but they may need modifications to provide greater protection against the strain as they do against other species already circulating elsewhere.
The lead researcher of the Oxford vaccine trial conducted in South Africa, Professor Shapier Madi, told CBS News on Monday that more than 13 different types of coronavirus have been identified in the country since the start of the pandemic. He said the new virus, 501.V2, which has spread like wildfire in coastal cities in South Africa, is the most worrisome mutation to date.
He said: “It is not recognized that the vaccine will not work on this alternative, but considering that the vaccine may not have full effectiveness.”
Both Oxford and US drug giant Johnson & Johnson have conducted human trials of their vaccines in South Africa, including administered doses, since the new alternative began to spread.
“Those who had our trial received the second dose during the time of this new variant, which is very lucky,” Madi said, adding that he expects the results of the related trial by the fourth week of January.
Glenda Gray, chair of the South African Medical Research Council and leader of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine trial team, confirmed that their trial also included giving participants doses amid the outbreak of the new strain.
She said, “Fortunately, this timing will allow us to see if there is any change with this new variant” in the effectiveness of the vaccine. Her team also expects results “near the end of this month”.
She said: “This new alternative should not delay the arrival of the vaccine, but it also means that we need to keep our eyes on superinfections,” referring to the rate of infections among those who received the vaccine.
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine requires only one dose, unlike the Oxford and Pfizer vaccines approved for use in Britain, or the Moderna formulation used in the United States alongside Pfizer vaccines.
The Oxford vaccine has been tested at seven different sites across South Africa on 2,100 volunteers, while about 45,000 people have participated in the Johnson and Johnson trial.
So far, immunologists have expressed little concern about the effectiveness of approved or suspended vaccines against other mutations of the Coronavirus, including a variant discovered late last year in the London area that has caused infection rates in the UK to rise sharply.
Government scientists say that, like the South African alternative, the new British strain appears to be transmitted more easily between people, but they expect vaccines to respond in the same way as the more prevalent versions of the disease.
South Africans are stuck waiting
Meanwhile, South Africans are still waiting to know when any vaccines will actually be available in their country outside of trials.
The country’s largest trade union accused the government of “gross incompetence” in its plan to deploy the vaccine. A group of prominent scholars, including Glenda Gray, have criticized the government in Editorial published on Sunday When they said it was a “staggering” lack of planning.
Within hours of criticism, Health Minister Dr. Zwaili Mkhize gave an online presentation outlining the government’s plan. He said the goal is to vaccinate two-thirds of South Africa’s 57 million people by the end of the year, starting in February.
“We are targeting at least 67% of the population to achieve herd immunity,” he said.
The South African Department of Health has reported a total of 1.1 million cumulative cases of COVID-19 across the country, with a positive rate of around 32% and nearly 30,000 confirmed deaths. It is the worst national epidemic of Coronavirus in Africa.
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