Maputo — The discovery that the AstraZeneca vaccine against Covid-19 is not effective against the South African strain of the coronavirus is a “bucket of cold water” poured over the hopes of the region, declared Mozambique’s Deputy National Director of Public Health, Benigna Matsinhe, on Monday.
The South African health authorities announced on Sunday that they were stopping the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after it was discovered not to be effective against the variant given the scientific name 501Y.V2.
This variant of the virus, first discovered in South Africa, is now circulating widely in Mozambique. In January, the Health Ministry announced that about 70 per cent of the samples tested from the previous month showed the presence of the South African variant.
The news that South Africa had halted the rollout “is not very pleasant”, said Matsinhe. The Astra-Zeneca vaccine is easy to conserve, and so many African countries had intended to use it. The World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Vaccine Alliance, GAVI, were also banking on AstraZeneca – and it is WHO and GAVI who are the main funding agencies for coronavirus vaccination in Africa, through the COVAX initiative.
“This is a huge bucket of cold water, but we are sure that the pharmaceutical companies will do something”, Matsinhe told a Maputo press conference. She noted that while some of the vaccines must be kept at extremely low temperatures (as low as minus 70 degrees Celsius), the AstraZeneca vaccine, can be conserved at between two and eight degrees, which is well within Mozambique’s capacities.