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It’s Back to the Drawing Board after Jabs Misfire in South Africa’s Vaccine Drive

South Africa is scrambling to find a new strategy to fight Covid-19 after suspending vaccinations using the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab just a week after the country received its first 1m doses. Preliminary data indicated that the jab had only 10% efficacy in preventing mild or moderate infections by the new variant now dominant in the country, which has suffered more than 46,000 Covid deaths so far according to official figures, and many more according to excess mortality data. Prof Salim Abdool Karim, co-chair of the ministerial advisory committee on Covid-19, told a World Health Organization briefing that South Africa now planned to give 100,000 people the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine to ascertain how well it protects against severe disease, hospitalisation and death caused by the variant. Karim said that if the numbers admitted to hospital with severe Covid after the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab were higher than they would expect, “then we need to look at alternatives”. Karim said the timetable for the immunisation programme in South Africa would not be affected, because in the meantime, they planned to roll out the Janssen vaccine, made by Johnson & Johnson, instead. That vaccine was recently reported to have efficacy of 57% against the variant in South Africa. It has not yet been given regulatory approval, however. Opposition parties accused the ruling African National Congress of incompetence.