GOVERNMENT has had to look at alternative vaccines that provide protection against the 501Y.V2 variant of the coronavirus.

This follows the discovery that the highly effective AstraZeneca vaccine, which has an efficacy of between 60% to 90% against Covid-19, isn’t strong enough to prevent mild to moderate disease caused by this variant of the virus that was discovered in South Africa.

It’s unknown what the efficacy of AstraZeneca against the 501y.V2 variant is to prevent disease and death.

The now weaker vaccine only provides 22% protection, resulting in the postponement of the AstraZeneca vaccine roll-out.

Plan B

One of the vaccines that came highly recommended was the Janssen vaccine from Johnson & Johnson.

Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said the vaccine was being considered because it had shown to be effective in providing reasonable protection against mild to moderate illness resulting from Covid-19, and very good efficacy to prevent severe disease and death even with the new variant.

He also said negotiations with the manufacturer, the South African Medical Research Council and members of national and provincial health teams, were at an advanced stage and roll-out of the vaccine would be done together with an implementation study.

According to The Lancet, implementation research is important in global health because it addresses challenges of the know-do gap in real-world settings, and the practicalities of achieving national and global health goals.

It uses multiple disciplines and methods and emphasises partnerships between community members, implementers, researchers and policy makers.

This means that as vaccinations are rolled out, scientists will also be looking at getting more data on the vaccine’s effectiveness and the vaccine roll-out process and how it works on larger population groups than the ones that were part of the clinical trials.

What does the science say?

Data from phase 3 of the Ensemble clinical trial showed that the single-dose vaccine met all the safety and efficacy requirements that a vaccine should meet before it can be given approval by various health product authorities.

Around 43 783 participants took part in the study and it was found to be able to protect against moderate to severe Covid-19 illness by up to 72% in the US, 66% in Latin America and by up to 57% in South Africa, 28 days after vaccination.

For protection against severe disease, the vaccine provided 85% protection across all the regions where trials were conducted.

And 41% of the participants were people with comorbidities such as diabetes, obesity, hypertension, HIV and other immune-compromising diseases, while 34% were over the age of 60.

Co-lead investigator for the Janssen clinical trials in Mzansi, Professor Glenda Gray, said they had local data on the vaccine’s efficacy during Sunday night’s briefing where the findings on the AstraZeneca were announced.

“We have data from South Africa that shows we can use this vaccine to prevent death and hospitalisation.

“This is not an experiment, a single vaccine dose from the vaccine will prevent severe illness and hospitalisation.”

Johnson & Johnson vaccine expected soon Mzansi is expecting the first consignment of up to 80 000 doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine this week.

A total of 300 000 doses have been secured and will be arriving in the country over a period of four weeks. A further 200 000 doses may then follow.

Although the company will apply for emergency use from the Health Products Regulatory Authority as soon as their application in the USA is approved.

Covid-19 Conversations is brought to you by the African Alliance in partnership with the South African Medical Research Council, the Department of Science and

Innovation, and the Vaccine Advocacy Resource Group. Questions? info@africanalliance.org.za. Twitter @Afri_Alliance.