Government is reviewing whether to proceed with the planned rollout of Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine after a research showed it offered minimal protection against mild infection from a new variant spreading in the country from South Africa blamed for the surge in cases.
South Africa announced on Monday its pause after researchers from the University of Witwatersrand and the University of Oxford found that the AstraZeneca vaccine provided only minimal protection against mild or moderate infection from the B.1.351 variant, now the dominant form of the virus in that country.
President Lazarus Chakwera confirmed that the B.1.351 variant from South Africa is now prevailing in Malawi as its citizens are returning from Rainbow Nation in busloads.
The new variant has been linked to a second wave of infections in Malawi with the arrival of about 1 000 Malawians from South Africa.
However, Chakwera said the vaccine was the big hope for Malawi as it is cheap and easy to store and transport.
Chakwera said the strategy of limiting new infections offers the best chance against the disease.
He said the vaccine has an efficacy of between 60% to 65% efficacy which was still “high enough to save lives.”
Said Chakwera: “The hardship of preventing new infections is better than the hardship of treating them.”.
Presidential Task Force on Covid-19 co-chairperson Dr John Phuka said they will review the vaccine plan before roll out.
Britain and Australia urged calm, citing evidence that the vaccines prevented grave illness and death, while AstraZeneca said it believed its vaccine could protect against severe disease.
The B.1.351 variant dominant in South Africa, also known as 20I/501Y.V2, is also circulating in at least 40 other countries, including the United States. Other major variants include one first found in Britain, known as 20I/501Y.V1, and one found in Brazil known as P.1.
Sarah Gilbert, professor of vaccinology at the University of Oxford, said efforts were under way to develop a new generation of booster shot vaccines that will allow protection against emerging variants.
“This is the same issue that is faced by all of the vaccine developers, and we will continue to monitor the emergence of new variants that arise in readiness for a future strain change,” Gilbert said in quotes reported by Reuters.
Chakwera, just six months in office, lost two Cabinet ministers to Covid-19 and four legislators amid a surge that led him to declare a state of national disaster in all of Malawi’s 28 districts.
Malawi, which reported its first Covid-19 cases on April 2 2020, has so far confirmed 27,195 coronavirus cases and 856 deaths according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The previous administration planned a 21-day national lockdown from midnight April 18 to midnight May 9 as a precautionary measure to curb the spread of Covid-19. However, the lockdown was foiled by a court order obtained by comes concerned citizens and civil society organisations.Follow and Subscribe Nyasa TV :