Johannesburg-South Africa said on Sunday that it would continue the planned deployment of

AstraZeneca

The PLC vaccine, Covid-19, has not been shown to protect recipients from mild to moderate illness caused by a new, rapidly spreading strain of coronavirus first discovered in the country in a small clinical trial.

The study, which involved about 2,000 volunteers with an average age of 31, was too small and the participants too young to draw general conclusions about the vaccine’s overall effectiveness in protecting against coronavirus disease, including hospitalizations or deaths. However, their findings reinforce concerns that the mutated virus is making existing Covid 19 vaccines less effective and that vaccines need to be updated to protect against new strains of the virus.

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Of the 39 volunteers in the AstraZeneca study infected with the new South African variant, 19 received the vaccine and 20 a placebo, said Shabir Madhi, principal investigator of the study and dean of medicine at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. The figures would imply about 10% efficacy in protecting against the mild to moderate covid-19 of the new variant, Dr. Madhi said, although he added that the data were too limited to be statistically significant.

Following the announcement of the results, South African Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said the country is temporarily suspending the planned use of the vaccine until more information is available on its effectiveness. The country had planned to send the first batch of one million doses of the vaccine to health workers this month.

Johnson & Johnson

и

Novavax Inc,

whose vaccines are not yet licensed in any country, their vaccines have also been shown to be less effective in recent human clinical trials in South Africa than in trials in the United States or the United Kingdom. However, their vaccines were still 50% or more effective in preventing mild to moderate cases of covid-19 and even more effective in protecting recipients from severe illness and hospitalization due to the new strain.

About 6,500 people participated in the Johnson and Johnson study in South Africa, and 4,400 people in the Novawax study.

Far and wide

Thirty-two districts reported cases of the variant coronavirus, which first emerged in South Africa.

Countries where variant B1.351 was found.

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UK.

earliest opportunity

reports

December 12.

UNITED STATES.

earliest opportunity

reported on January 27

South Africa

First case registered on October 8

http://server.digimetriq.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/1612729817_474_Rollout-of-AstraZeneca-Covid-19-Vaccine-Halted-in-South-Africa-After.jpg

UK.

earliest opportunity

reports

December 12.

UNITED STATES.

earliest opportunity

reported on January 27

South Africa

First case registered on October 8

http://server.digimetriq.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/1612729818_860_Rollout-of-AstraZeneca-Covid-19-Vaccine-Halted-in-South-Africa-After.jpg

UK.

earliest opportunity

reports

December 12.

UNITED STATES.

earliest opportunity

reported on January 27

South Africa

First case registered on October 8

http://server.digimetriq.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/02/1612729818_789_Rollout-of-AstraZeneca-Covid-19-Vaccine-Halted-in-South-Africa-After.jpg

UNITED STATES.

earliest opportunity

reports

January 27.

South Africa

First case registered on October 8

The University of Witwatersrand said in a press release that it could not assess whether the vaccine prevented more serious cases of Covida 19 disease because the relatively young participants in the study had a low risk of serious disease.

However, Dr. Madhi and the Oxford University scientists who developed the vaccine with AstraZeneca said that based on the results of other vaccine trials, they were optimistic that their vaccine would provide protection against severe covid-19. AstraZeneca and its partners have pledged to produce about three billion doses of the vaccine this year-enough to immunize 1.5 billion people and far more than any other manufacturer. More than a billion doses are expected to go to low- and middle-income countries.

“This study confirms that, as expected, the pandemic coronavirus is finding ways to spread further among vaccinated populations.”

Andrew Pollard,

director of the Oxford Vaccine Group at the University of Oxford, in a press release on the results of the study. “However, given the promising results of other studies conducted in South Africa using a similar viral vector, vaccines could further alleviate the burden on the health care system by preventing serious illness.”

An AstraZeneca spokesman said the company believes “our vaccine can provide protection against serious diseases.” Like other vaccine makers, AstraZeneca says it is working to update its vaccines to combat new variants of the virus. It hopes to have a new vaccine available in the fall.

The South African strain, known as B.1.351, is already responsible for most infections in South Africa and is held responsible for the sharp rise in Covid 19 cases in countries such as Mozambique and Zambia in recent weeks.

Taking the lead

The new variant of coronavirus has rapidly displaced other strains in South Africa.

Percentage of coronavirus strains discovered in South Africa.

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Researchers in the United States, Canada, Israel and several European and African countries have also found it in positive coronavirus test samples from people with no recent travel history, suggesting that it is spreading in the community. In total, it has been detected in 32 countries, and virologists say it is likely to be present in other countries that do not routinely sequence positive samples.

Scientists in South Africa and the United Kingdom believe that strain B.1.351 is about 50% more infectious than earlier versions of the virus, based on the much faster increase in Covid-19 infections during the second wave in South Africa compared to the first and on biological studies of changes in the structure of the virus.

South African researchers say that variant B.1.351 does not appear to lead to more deaths or more severe cases of Covida disease.

Nice to meet you, Gupta,

A professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, who did not participate in the study of AstraZeneca’s South African vaccine, said Sunday that the results underscore the need to update the current Covid 19 vaccine crop against new variants. However, he said he expects AstraZeneca’s vaccines to still provide some protection against the new strain. “We absolutely must use vaccines to protect people from serious diseases,” he said.

Concerns about the South African variant and its impact on vaccine efficacy focus on a mutation known as E484K. Researchers believe this mutation makes it more difficult for antibodies to capture and neutralize the virus.

The same mutation was also found in another variant discovered in Brazil. Earlier this month, British researchers reported finding the E484K mutation in a small number of patients infected with another variant of the coronavirus that spreads rapidly and causes infections.

As new variants of coronaviruses spread around the world, scientists are trying to understand how dangerous they can be. WSJ explains. Illustration: Alex Kuzoian/WSJ

Jenny Strasburg contributed to this article.

Corrections and
additionsThe volunteers who participated in the South African trial of AstraZeneca’s Covida-19 vaccine had a mean age of 31 years. An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that they had a mean age of 32 years.

Email Gabriele Steinhauser at [email protected]

Copyright ©2020 Dow Jones & Company, Inc. All rights reserved. 87990cbe856818d5eddac44c7b1cdeb8

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