Tuesday, 18 January, 2022
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More vaccine confusion: MAC contradicts Mkhize over Novavax

There has been yet another vaccine fumble, this time over the Novavax vaccine writes MedicalBrief. Health Minister Mkhize told parliament that the ministerial advisory committee (MAC) had advised against it but MAC head of committee says it is yet to “critically evaluate” the vaccine.

Last week, Mkhize told the portfolio committee in parliament the MAC had advised the shot is “not suitable for our setting”. The head of MAC, Professor Barry Schoub, however told BusinessLive the following day that data on the Novavax vaccine had only recently been released through the company’s pamphlet and not in a scientific publication, and that the MAC would now assess Novavax's suitability for South African use.

The committee would “critically evaluate” how effective it is at stopping severe disease.

A two-dose vaccine, Novavax is available through the global procurement initiative co-ordinated by the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access Facility, commonly known as Covax, of which South Africa is a member.The vaccine has been tested in South Africa in a clinical trial and proved to be 60% effective against the strain in South Africa and about 50% effective when participants with HIV were included.

Professor Shabir Madhi, a world-leading vaccinologist, questioned the decision to drop Novavax, writes BusinessLive. “It is puzzling that the ministerial advisory committee on vaccines have purportedly recommended that (the) national department of health does not consider use of the Novavax COVID-19 vaccine in South Africa. The Novavax vaccine, in a study done in South Africa, is the only COVID-19 vaccine that has been shown to reduce the risk of even mild-moderate COVID-19 due to the B1351 variant by 50%.”

Professor Francois Venter, divisional head of Ezintsha, at the Wits Reproductive Health and HIV Institute, also asked for reasons behind this and all decisions on what vaccines will be used in South Africa. “It would be good to see the actual justification for this as well as for any inclusion or exclusion of specific vaccines … We have no coherent explanation.”

The MAC has advised buying the Pfizer vaccine, which as Madhi says, has not been evaluated in SA. Mkhize told parliament SA is in talks with Russian and Chinese vaccine manufacturers and is monitoring a Cuban vaccine development.


Head of Infectious Diseases at University of Cape Town, Prof Marc Mendelson, said in an IOL report that it was impossible to fathom why Novavax would be rejected. “Makes absolutely no sense to me. I would love to hear from the chair of the MAC on vaccines as to the reasoning. It is impossible to fathom why Novavax would be passed up, great vaccine. Would be proud and feel safer to have it in my deltoid muscle,” Mendelson said.

Echoing Mendelson, Wits professor of vaccinology Shabir Madhi said the Novavax vaccine had 100% protection against the B1.351 severe Covid variant in South Africa and it is efficacious against mild Covid-19. “Seemingly, MAC has advised the South African government not to pursue the AstraZeneca or Novavax vaccine.”


Full BusinessLIVE report (Open access


Full IOL report (Open access) (Open access)

See also MedicalBrief archives:

Novavax trials in SA and UK confirm high efficacy against original and variants

Novavax highly protective against Kent variant but less against SA variant

SA is taking part in 3 international COVID-19 vaccine trials

Wits launches second COVID-19 vaccine trial

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