The new variation of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine will probably only be available in November or December, says Magda Wierzycka, co-CEO at the passive investment company, Sygnia.
“Oxford has already said that it is working on a variation of the vaccine which would work against the new variant or the new variants, including the Brazilian variant, and that they should have a new version of the vaccine available by autumn. In fact, I heard Sir John Bell [from the University of Oxford] saying [by] September 1 they should have the new formula, if you like, available,” said Wierzycka.
This after Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize announced the pausing of the rollout of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine following a clinical trial showing the doses were ineffective on about 2000 patients infected with the newer strain of Covid-19.
The efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine dropped to 22% against the 501.V2 variant.
In an interview with Moneyweb editor Ryk van Niekerk on Monday, Wierzycka said the Department of Health should, however, use available doses of AstraZeneca on medical personnel right now, and then almost have a much bigger sample size that they observe on a live basis in terms of the effectiveness of the vaccine.
“Being an actuary and a statistician, I do believe that a sample of 1100 people is a very, very small statistical sample.
“Nonetheless, they are hopeful; and it is a hope because, again, they tested the vaccine on very young people. The median age was 31. They are hopeful that the vaccine can still be effective against severe versions of Covid-19, which is why I said right at the beginning that I think we shouldn’t waste the 1.5 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine. We should actually start inoculating front-line personnel.
“The vaccine is safe. There are no safety issues. And the same thing will happen in the UK. They’re rolling out the standard AstraZeneca vaccine as is [in the UK], and then the booster shots which they will be developing will cover the South African variant.
“So we could take exactly the same approach, use the 1.5 million doses that we have available, while focusing on procuring the new version of the AstraZeneca vaccine, which, if you take into account manufacturing processes, unfortunately will probably only be available in November or December,” she said.
According to Wierzycka, the other alternatives could be the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines – the RNA vaccines, though they pose a logistical problem of storing things at ‑70°C, and the cost, which is astronomical.
Meanwhile, the country should prepare for a possible third wave of the virus, which is expected to hit the country in May, June or July, and will probably follow the same pattern of the second wave, said Wierzycka.
ALSO READ: Vaccine rollout raises real-world questions
“The second wave hit South Africa very quickly, very sharply, and waned very quickly, which is actually a positive. It’s not a wave that has lingered on and on and on. It literally rose up, and the numbers started falling down dramatically.
“So I think that in any kind of a third wave there’s a potential that a similar thing happens, and that the natural immunity that the South African population already has, be it well below that required for what’s called herd immunity, and the fact that so many people have had Covid already, means that they do have antibodies, they do have natural protection; and hence potentially the impact of any third wave will be much smaller than the previous two,” she said.