Addis Ababa – Most African countries should still roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine despite questions over its use against a variant that emerged in South Africa, the continent’s health watchdog said Thursday.
“We will not be walking away from AstraZeneca vaccines at all,” John Nkengasong, director of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told a press conference.
The variant detected in South Africa has now been found in six other countries across the continent, Nkengasong said — Botswana, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia.
But there have been no “systematic studies over time” demonstrating that the variant is dominant in any of them, he said.
“This is a good vaccine without the variant, and the variant will only impact if the variant is overwhelming in the country,” he said.
In the vast majority of African countries where the variant has not been detected, “we recommend that they proceed with the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Nkengasong said.
“For countries that have not identified this variant, there is absolutely no reason why it should not be used there.”
South African authorities said Sunday they were delaying the start of a much-anticipated vaccination campaign — scheduled to have begun this week with a first batch of one million Oxford/AstraZeneca doses — after a study showed the jabs failed to prevent mild and moderate infection from the South African variant.
On Wednesday, the government said it would begin the inoculation campaign with Johnson & Johnson shots, and was considering trading its AstraZeneca stockpile.
But South African health experts have also suggested vaccinating several thousand people with AstraZeneca to see if it protects against severe cases of the variant.
Africa has so far been hit less hard by the coronavirus pandemic than other continents, recording around 3.5 percent of global cases and 4 percent of global deaths, according to Africa CDC data.
But many African countries are currently battling damaging second waves while straining to procure sufficient vaccine doses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has described as “realistic” the goal of vaccinating around 30 percent of the continent’s population by the end of the year.