NO, the exact opposite is true. The AstraZeneca vaccine was approved for emergency use in December 2020 after being deemed safe and with good efficacy by studies conducted in the UK and Brazil. However, a study done by our excellent South African researchers has now revealed important information about the way the vaccine works on the new variant of COVID-19 called variant 501Y.V2, which was first identified in South Africa.
It is important to remember that at the time the study was started, the new variant had not yet been identified. As soon as it became evident that a variant had evolved in South Africa, excellent work was done by South African medical researchers to quickly identify the exact structural differences between the wild type COVID-19 virus (the original virus) and the COVID-19 variant (the mutated COVID-19 virus 501Y.V2). The impact of the new variant on the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine was then added to the objectives of the AstraZeneca vaccine trial that was already ongoing within South Africa.
Until the end of October 2020 the AstraZeneca vaccine was remarkably efficacious in reducing the likelihood of becoming infected with COVID-19. This unfortunately changed when the new variant started spreading in South Africa and the study was used to evaluate how well the vaccine worked against the variant. There was little difference between the number of COVID-19 infections in the vaccine group versus the placebo group, meaning that the vaccine did not do much to prevent people getting infected with the new variant. The vaccine is therefore less effective against the new variant than the original COVID-19 virus. What the study did not show was whether the vaccine decreases the chance of severe disease or death from the new variant. We therefore do not know yet how useful the vaccine will be.
As soon as this information became available, the South African Department of Health immediately decided to halt the planned roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine, because of its poor results against the 501Y.V2 variant which is most predominant in South Africa now. The AstraZeneca vaccines are not wasted as they may still prove to be effective in some individuals as more information becomes available, and the possibility of returning the vaccines to be used in other parts of the world is also being investigated.
Minister Zweli Mkhize has further confirmed in statement on the 24th of February 2021 that the one million AstraZeneca vaccine doses procured by SA have been sold to the African Union at cost price.