Political and labour organisations have called on government to turn to alternative Covid-19 vaccines, including those being developed in socialist countries such as Cuba and Russia.
This comes after Minister of Health Dr Zweli Mkhize announced the discontinuation of the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, in response to “disappointing” clinical trial results.
A study involving around 2000 people found the vaccine offered “minimal protection” against mild and moderate cases of a newer, potentially more dangerous strain of Covid-19. South Africa has already purchased 1.5 million doses, with 1 million of them sitting at government warehouses after arriving from India earlier this month.
The clinical trial revealed that the Oxford-AstraZeneca’s two-dose regimen did not show protection against the mild to moderate cases of the B.1.351 variant of Covid-19
Currently, the newer strain accounted for more than 90% of Covid-19 cases in the country. With government’s goal of reaching 67% of its population with the vaccine roll-out programme, time was ticking unfavourably for other vaccines to reach South Africa’s shores. The doses were destined for 1.2 million healthcare workers in the country.
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On Monday morning, the National Education, Health and Allied Workers’ Union (Nehawu) said it noted developments with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, whose trials saw some 44,352 participants partaking with positive results.
“We call on our government to move with speed in procuring it because some of the participants were South Africans,” said Nehawu in a statement.
The union called on government not to limit its search for vaccines to Western and European countries. It reiterated its call for government to widen its net in searching for more vaccine options.
“We call on government to consider the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine, which published impressive phase-three findings in the Lancet medical journal last week. The Sputnik V viral vector vaccine achieved efficacy of 91.6% in preventing symptomatic Covid-19 in a large phase-three clinical trial,” the union said.
“Government must also consider vaccines from the Finlay Vaccine Institute from the Republic of Cuba.” Two Covid-19 vaccines had to date been produced in the Latin American [sic] island and the trials for one of them, called the Sovereign I were aimed at determining the optimal level of antigen strength for protecting people previously infected with Covid-19.”
Nehawu also called on the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to move speedily with the process of authorising the use of the Astra-Zeneca vaccine. According to Nehawu, the mutation of the virus necessitated constant and ongoing research to prevent another blunder of this magnitude.
Meanwhile, Congress of the People (Cope) responded to the “depressing” news of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, accusing the Serum Institute of India, where the vaccines were imported from, of duping the South African government.
“This is extremely shocking news that the country was taken for a ride by the Serum Institute of India. It is now discovered and revealed after a week that the first million doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine that the government procured will expire well ahead of the health department’s plans,” said Cope spokesperson Dennis Bloem.
He said Cope was not surprised with this latest revelation because government had failed to put together a worked-out Covid-19 plan.
“This revelation of the vaccine is strengthening the doubt of some in society not to have trust in the vaccination project. Government is really not assisting in instilling confidence in society with the manner in which they manage this deadly Covid-19.”