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From: The Socialist issue 1120, 10 February 2021: Tories admit market failure - we want our NHS back!

Search site for keywords: Vaccine - Covid - Africa - South Africa

Question mark over AstraZeneca's vaccine to protect against new Covid variant

Photo: Frolicsomepl/CC

Photo: Frolicsomepl/CC   (Click to enlarge)

The Johnson government's much-trumpeted Covid vaccine roll-out programme has taken a knock. A research trial in South Africa has suggested the UK's most distributed vaccine - AstraZeneca's - was largely ineffective at preventing mild or moderate disease from the B.1.351 'South African' variant of Covid-19, which has established itself here. The vaccine is thought to prevent serious disease, but more trial results are needed.

A few days before this finding, AstraZeneca said its preliminary studies showed that its vaccine is still effective against the UK B.1.1.7 Covid variant first found in Kent (but less effective than against the original strain), which is rapidly becoming the dominant strain worldwide.

The Tory government's rush to reopen the economy and 'return to normality', by creating vaccine 'herd immunity' among the population, now looks compromised. The original AstraZeneca trial was too small, especially in older age groups, dosage production mistakes were made during the trial and it was insufficiently trialled outside the UK before being marketed.

South Africa trials

Shabir Madhi, lead researcher of Covid vaccine trials in South Africa, had previously commented: "It took a lot of convincing both for Novavax as well as for AstraZeneca vaccine for their sponsors to eventually agree to bring studies to South Africa. And the studies were largely led directly by us in South Africa. We also had to convince funders to support the studies in South Africa...

This is just to emphasise that companies were not rushing to Africa to get their Covid-19 vaccines evaluated on the continent. On the contrary, there seems to be little incentive for them to do their studies here, as it's not seen as a market that will provide a return on their investments."

Both Novavax and Johnson & Johnson have said their vaccines were less effective against the strain in clinical trials conducted in South Africa.

Shabir Madhi says the Novavax vaccine efficacy was 60% in people living without HIV in South Africa compared with 89% in the UK, following two doses. Both Novavax and Johnson & Johnson claim their vaccines offer complete protection against severe disease and death in relation to Covid-19.

Pfizer reckons that its own preliminary studies show that its vaccine, which was the first to be licensed in the UK, is effective against variants in the UK, South Africa and elsewhere. Moderna also says laboratory tests showed its vaccine to still be effective against the South African strain.

However, these are preliminary findings. How effective they will be in the field is still undetermined. The virus is continually changing so it's likely that, as with seasonal flu, a booster or annual vaccine jab will be required.

These developments show that relying solely on vaccines is insufficient in controlling the Covid pandemic. It reinforces having effective controls ie, test, trace, isolate and support, to break the cycle of Covid transmission, something the Johnson government with its late, big business-run and piecemeal measures has failed to achieve.

New variants will continue to arise, especially where the virus spreads rapidly like the UK, Brazil and South Africa.

The fact that the South African variant is now established in the UK and the UK variant has now been found in over 55 countries, shows that unless the pandemic is tackled globally - with affordable vaccination programmes available in low-income countries - then Covid will bite back in the high-income capitalist nations.

Therein lays the fundamental contradiction of capitalism. Namely, trade and economic activity and population movements are global but capitalism remains confined to individual competing nation states and ruling classes seeking profit and accumulating wealth.

Tackling health pandemics - along with global warming, poverty and inequality and many other world problems - can only be achieved through internationalism and cooperation. Capitalism cannot do that; that's why socialism is a necessity for survival.

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Article dated 10 February 2021

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