The Africa Health Research Institute says a move by South Africa to switch to use the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is right. South African health minister, Zweli Mkhize announced Wednesday, that it was suspending vaccinating its frontline health workers against the coronavirus with the Oxford-Astrazeneca vaccine because of its ‘’limited’’ efficacy.
"I think it's the right decision to move to a vaccine that has been shown in South Africa to protect against the new variant that is circulating here and in this setting, protect against severe disease with 85% protection. And that's exactly what we want. So I think it was the right decision to move to plan B", said Director, Prof. Willem Hanekom.
A small study, which is yet to be peer-reviewed, suggested it did not help in preventing mild to moderate disease caused by the variant, first detected in the country. Experts said it might work well against more sever disease.
"I agree that it is a problem that Johnson & Johnson has not been approved by the regulatory authority yet, but in the interim it could be used in a study setting because it is approved to be used in study settings. So the studies could be modified to make them what we call phase 3B studies and where everyone receives the vaccine and is being followed up. So I'm not entirely sure what the plan is for next week. I think we need to still hear the details. But clearly it is available to now use in the study setting and hopefully it will be approved soon by the regulator", Prof. Hanekom added.
A study of the J & J vaccine in South Africa, showed it was 57% effective at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19 when the variant was dominant. It provides even better protection against severe disease, with 85% efficacy after 28 days.
South Africa received the first batch of 1 million doses of the vaccine from India earlier this month. It is not clear what will happen to those vaccines, although reports say the country might sell or exchange them. Currently, the Southern African nation, the hardest hit with the virus on the continent, has ordered 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The first batch is expected next week.