South Africa Makes COVID-19 Vaccine Changes

The country announced it is going to study the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine for health care workers and will not go forward with plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.

South Africa announced today it has decided to begin using the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine for its front-line health care workers and will use it in a study to see what protection it offers this cohort.

In addition, the country is going to forgo plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine. South Africa Minister of Health Zweli Mkhize announced these plans on a national broadcast today. He said this decision was made because the AstraZeneca vaccine does not protect against mild or moderate disease of the South African variant.

Earlier this week, South Africa decided to temporarily remove the AstraZeneca vaccine from their program after data showed the vaccine was not as efficacious against the South African (501Y.V2) variant. In fact, study investigators reported the AstraZeneca vaccine showed a 22% lowered risk of mild to moderate COVID-19 in South Africa. This efficaciousness decreased significantly to the previously demonstrated 75% efficacy of the vaccine prior to the 501Y.V2 variant.

Mkhize said the country plans to try to exchange the existing supply of AstraZeneca vaccines it has in the country now to other countries.

Johnson & Johnson reported at the end of January its vaccine's level of protection against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection was 57% in South Africa—28 days post-vaccination.

The single dose investigational vaccine, which is being developed by the Janssen Pharmaceutical Companies of Johnson & Johnson, is more commonly referred to as the Ad26.COV2.S vaccine, and is a recombinant, replication-incompetent adenovirus serotype 26 (Ad26) vector encoding a full-length and stabilized SARS-CoV-2 spike (S) protein.

The J&J vaccine is in late stage development and has not been authorized or approved in any countries yet. The US Food and Drug Administration has set a date of February 26 for the agency’s Vaccines and Related Biologics Product Advisory Committee (VRBPAC) hearing. The committee will meet to discuss the vaccine and its efficacy. The committee is expected to vote on whether or not to recommend FDA Emergency Use Authorization that same day.