South Africa seeks new vaccine plan after halting AstraZeneca

Johannesburg: South Africa is considering giving a COVID-19 vaccine that is still in the testing phase to health workers, after suspending the rollout of another shot that preliminary data indicated may be only minimally effective against the mutated form of the virus dominating the country.

The country was scrambling on Monday to come up with a new vaccination strategy after it halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine - which is cheaper and easier to handle than some others and which many had hoped would be crucial to combatting the pandemic in developing countries.

Among the possibilities being considered: mixing the AstraZeneca vaccine with another one or giving Johnson & Johnson's single-dose vaccine, which has not yet been authorized for use anywhere, to 100,000 health care workers while monitoring its efficacy against the variant.

The abrupt change in strategy was prompted by preliminary results in a small study that showed the AstraZeneca vaccine was only minimally effective against mild to moderate cases of the disease caused by the variant.

There is reason to hope the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may fare better in the country. Initial results from an international test of the vaccine showed it is 57% effective in South Africa at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19.

That was less than in other countries - the rate was 72% in the US, for example - presumably due to the worrisome variant. It was even more effective - 85% internationally - at preventing the most serious symptoms.

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