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Reason South Africa hurriedly halted AstraZeneca vaccination - global implications for the pandemic

Worried child

On the 7th of February, 2021, news filtered from South Africa regarding the fact that 1.5 million shipped doses of AstraZeneca vaccine to its country will not be used to vaccinate its population. This set back is due to the outcome of trial results of the efficacy of that vaccine type on the South African variant of the virus causing COVID by scientists at the Witwatersrand University. The implications of that rejection are hereby discussed. This is an opinion based on the available evidence and does not invalidate further studies that continue to be conducted.

1. Continued ancillary preventive paraphernalia

There still to be seen some light in the tunnel of this pandemic. Although there has been excessive international travel restrictions, lockdowns, and self-isolation, as well as agitation for travel passports, cases of the South African variants have filtered to other countries. Individuals, therefore, need to continue to observe the preventive methods to reduce their chance of infection.

Woman with face mask

This includes those that may have received the vaccines. For the avoidance of doubt, below are a few of the advised preventive measures:

· Observe social distance

· Wear facemask if social distance cannot be maintained due to work and travel

· Keep a healthy lifestyle – good control of respiratory, endocrine, cardiovascular, and chronic diseases

· Exercise, eat, rest, and sleep proportionately adequate for your age and physical stamina

· Get a dose of a multivitamin that has appropriate amounts of multivitamins

· Get immunized against the globally abundant variant of COVID virus

2. Builds confidence on the scientific approach to management of COVID

One of the implications of the decisions of the government of South Africa to halt the use of AstraZeneca vaccine in their country is that it brings back some confidence in the scientific approach to management of the current pandemic. For a long time, Chinese whispers continue to ravage the social media, fueled by conspiracy theories. Several social group discussions, involving, mostly people of the Blacks Asians Minority Ethnic groups have indicated the fact that if the vaccines have a research efficacy outcome among their population, then they are more likely than not to take the vaccines. The manner and differential outcomes of COVID infections in different ethnic groups would suggest that some pharmacogenomic approach would have an interplay in the management and prevention of COVID. Testing and retesting interventions of vaccines and therapeutics in African communities that were trialed in Western countries would then provide a more confident scientific deduction for effective intervention.

3. May be an exaggerated response

About 2,000 participants were given either two doses of the vaccine (AstraZeneca) or placebo shots in the trial conducted by SA scientists. Nineteen of the 748 people in the group that was given the vaccine were infected with the new variant, compared with 20 of 714 people in the group that was given a placebo. However, based on the immune responses detected in blood samples from people who were given the vaccine, the scientists said they believed that the vaccine could yet protect against more severe cases. The hype presented by this act of halting the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in SA may therefore be an exaggerated response. Be that as it may, halting a process in science is not the same thing as giving it a bad label. It may turn out to be that an extended trial may bring out a more robust data that will support the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine for the South African variant of the COVID-19 virus.

4. Casts global doubts to efficacy of global vaccination programs

There remains a significant degree of disquiet in several communities regarding the ongoing vaccination programmes. This is the case, even in developed western communities. A recent report in the UK has suggested the fact that 16% of whites were less likely to receive the vaccine compared to about 50% of blacks. With the new information of the outcome of AstraZeneca vaccine trial in South Africa, it may fuel fears and concerns of those that believe the vaccine programme is aimed at treating humans as “guinea pigs”. The management of the outcome of the decision by South African authorities shall demonstrate the needed independent scientific handling of this pandemic. If however, political intrusions are entertained, then doubts shall continue to fuel the spread of this virus.

Woman drawing up a vaccine

5. Sends researchers back to the lab to fine-tune existing vaccine solutions

The last of the implications is the fact that scientists, researchers, and epidemiologists now have a chance to return to the drawing table, rejig their strategies and bring out a more robust prevention strategies for the control of the ongoing pandemic. The rapid premorbid advance in science that led to jet-speed production of a vaccine within 1 year of the pandemic will no doubt provide an alternative solution to curb the ravaging pandemic.

Woman in Laboratory

If above response does not lead to production of a single vaccine solution that will counter the virus in all its variants, then there remains a likelihood that the humans of the 21st century will have to be recipients of multiple vaccines, in a cocktail fashion, to stay alive.

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