Covid-19 roundup: South Africa considers selling or swapping AstraZeneca shots; China calls for WHO probe in US
Two days after halting the country’s rollout of AstraZeneca and Oxford University’s Covid-19 vaccine, the South Africa government said it is considering selling or exchanging the doses it’s already received.
One million shots arrived in the country last week, and another 500,000 are expected to come in the near future. Officials will ultimately wait to make their decision until after they hear from scientific experts, and in the meantime are preparing to launch a study in health workers for J&J’s vaccine, health minister Zweli Mkhize said at a news conference, per Reuters.
“Why not sell the AstraZeneca to other countries, well it’s an option … we will consider it,” Mkhize said. “First our scientists will tell us what we do with it, can we use it within the time that’s available … before it expires.”
It’s not yet clear whether AstraZeneca would be OK with such a move, or how exactly a vaccine exchange might work.
The country has previously said it has purchased 9 million doses of J&J’s single-shot vaccine, and is still in negotiations to acquire the Moderna, Sinopharm and Sputnik V jabs. In the South African portion of the company’s trial, the J&J vaccine was 89% effective at preventing severe disease and 57% against moderate-to-severe disease.
South Africa stopped the AstraZeneca distribution after data from a small clinical trial indicated the shot was not effective against mild and moderate Covid-19 cases caused by the new variant that first emerged in the country. The strain is now dominant, with studies from Novavax and J&J in the country suggesting it now makes up more than 90% of cases.
Reuters reported earlier this week that prior to the spread of the variant, AstraZeneca’s vaccine was showing an efficacy of around 75%. But in another analysis based mostly on infections by the new variant, the efficacy rate was about 22%.
And in a study of only those infected by the new variant, there was effectively no difference in the number of cases in the placebo group and the vaccine group.
China ratchets up rhetoric, calls for virus origins probe in US
One day after the WHO completed its probe in China into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic, all but ruling out the possibility that the virus first emerged in a Wuhan lab, the Chinese government continued pushing a theory that it first originated outside its borders.
China needled the US over the investigation on Wednesday, calling on the country to invite WHO researchers to conduct a separate inquiry into Covid-19 beginnings on American soil, Reuters reported. US officials had said earlier Tuesday that they want to independently scrutinize data used by the team from the Wuhan probe.
Led by Peter Ben Embarek, the WHO team said Tuesday it was “extremely unlikely” that the novel coronavirus came from the result of a lab accident, confirming what most health experts had said since it first emerged in late 2019. He also raised the possibility that frozen food packaging could be a means of transmitting the virus. China has blamed some clusters of outbreaks on imported food.
The WHO probe all but swatted down the lab accident theory that had been promoted at times by former President Donald Trump’s administration, among others. China on Wednesday called out former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, with a state-run newspaper saying the team’s conclusion “completely refutes the conspiracy theory” of a lab accident, per Reuters.
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