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SA vaccine experts 'not overly concerned' with results of Pfizer study

South Africa is pushing ahead with the planned rollout of the Pfizer vaccine, with experts not overly concerned about the results of a new study showing that the dominant local coronavirus variant may reduce protective antibodies it triggers by two-thirds. A Sunday Times report quotes Health minister Zweli Mkhize as saying he was "comfortable" the rollout should continue as planned. "It's not a setback at all. But we will do an implementation study with the first few batches. We will vaccinate the first few and monitor them," Mkhize said.

The report says South Africa has committed to 20m doses from Pfizer, and Mkhize revealed the government has ordered more. An announcement will be made once figures are finalised.

Professor Barry Schoub, ministerial advisory committee (MAC) vaccine head, said in the report that "too much is being made" of the Pfizer study. "The efficacy reduction is not that significant. While we do not know its absolute efficacy yet, South Africa should absolutely be getting this vaccine."

Schoub said lots of clinical data on several vaccines was still outstanding. "We have good data from the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and almost (as) good data from Pfizer. We still, however, don't know how effective AstraZeneca is against severe infections, although against mild and moderate symptoms it is only 22% effective."

South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) president Glenda Gray said the Pfizer vaccine needed to be clinically evaluated in the field to know its true efficacy. "It is important to establish real life, in vivo, data in clinical trials. In vitro (in laboratory) data is an indication, but we need to know how it works in the field."

Gray said the efficacy of all the proven vaccines had taken a knock against the variant.

"I think it is important to go ahead (with Pfizer vaccinations) and there should be a parallel stream, rapidly evaluating the data."

These results could inform whether to rapidly escalate vaccinations with the Pfizer vaccine or not, she is quoted in the Sunday Times as saying.

 

Gray answered questions on COVID-19 vaccines from Chris Barron in the Sunday Times.

To the question: So was it a mistake to pull the plug on the rollout of AstraZeneca, Gray said: “In South Africa the data showed no efficacy. It was like 21%. Against mild infection But the (Professor Shabir Madhi, who conducted the study) didn't have data on severe. So essentially his data showed no efficacy.

To the question: Didn't he say he believed AstraZeneca would protect against serious illness or death, Gray said: “Belief and data are two different things. We believe it may work, but we have to have evidence that it does work. You can't go on belief.”

To the question: Doesn't AstraZeneca contain the same technology as other vaccines that have been shown to protect against serious illness and death, Gray replied: “No, they use different strategies.

To the question: And you're comfortable with the decision the government took, Gray replied: “They took the decision because they said they needed more data and that we needed to evaluate it further. And until then we need to consider other options.”

 

[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/news/2021-02-21-its-not-a-setback-at-all-sa-to-press-on-with-pfizer-covid-19-vaccine/"]Full Sunday Times report (Open access)[/link]

 

[link url="https://www.timeslive.co.za/sunday-times/opinion-and-analysis/2021-02-21-qa-with-glenda-gray-on-astrazeneca-covid-19-vaccine/"]Full Sunday Times report (Restricted access)[/link]

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