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South Africa halts AstraZeneca rollout on fears it doesn't stop mild illness

By Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton
Tuesday February 9, 2021

A box of Oxford-AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine vials is pictured in south Wales in January. If vaccines are less effective against new variants, they may need to be tweaked and people may need booster shots. (Geoff Caddick/AFP/Getty Images)

LONDON — South Africa halted Monday’s planned rollout of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccinations after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild infection from one variant, stoking fears of a much longer cat-and-mouse battle with the pathogen.

The coronavirus has killed 2.3 million people and turned normal life upside down for billions but new variants have raised fears that vaccines will need to be tweaked and people may have to have booster shots.

Researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford said in a prior-to-peer analysis that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the so-called South African variant among young people.

“This study confirms that the pandemic coronavirus will find ways to continue to spread in vaccinated populations, as expected,” said Andrew Pollard, chief investigator on the Oxford vaccine trial.

“But, taken with the promising results from other studies in South Africa using a similar viral vector, vaccines may continue to ease the toll on health care systems by preventing severe disease.”

South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said on Sunday the rollout would be put on hold and that the government would await advice from scientists on how best to proceed.


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