Friday, July 12, 2024

SA vaccine failure derails Botswana plans

The failure by the AstraZeneca-University of Oxford Covid-19 vaccine to provide protection against the new South African strain of coronavirus seems to have thrown a spanner into the works for the Botswana government. 

Minister for Presidential Affairs, Governance and Public Administration Kabo Morwaeng recently deferred to a later date a response to a question about vaccine rollout, suggesting it was back to the drawing board for the government.

Gaborone Central Member of Parliament Tumisang Healy recently posed a question about the government’s vaccine rollout plan.

Healy asked the Minister to update Parliament on the COVID−19 Vaccination Rollout Plan. He also asked Morwaeng to state what the current status on the procurement plan is as well as the initial target population people to be vaccinated. He also asked what the current budget for the procurement of vaccines and rollout is, and the criteria used to determine which vaccine to procure considering issues of efficacy.

But Healy told Parliament at the time that the Minister had asked him to withdraw the question.

“The Honourable Minister has asked that due to a recent development in one of the vaccines that he intended on procuring, AstraZeneca vaccine, he has asked to be given a few more days, he will respond sometimes later this week,” Healy said. A response was finally provided by the Minister of Health and Wellness Edwin Dikoloti this past Monday (seven days later).

Healy’s question came at the back of devastating news that the vaccine procured by South Africa offered minimal protection against the new South African strain of the virus.

The Botswana government has always failed to provide a definitive answer to questions regarding the procurement and roll out of a COVID-19 vaccine. It only became apparent following Healy’s question that the government had banked on the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Responding this week the Minister of Health provided the same rhetoric that has somehow become some form of a mantra they sing every time there is a question about COVID-19 vaccination.

He spoke of the COVAX Facility. “Through this platform, the Government has secured enough doses to cover its frontline workers or 20% of the population. About $2.9 Million has been paid on this facility.” The same statement was given on national television earlier this year.

He also made reference, again, about the African Vaccine Acquisition Task Team (AVATT) established by the African Union which he said has been able to secure a provisional 270 million for Africa from which Botswana will receive its share. “About $7.01 Million has been paid on this facility.”

In respect to criteria, the Minister said, there is universal acknowledgment that there are, and will always be risks associated with the use of any medicine or vaccines.  “Therefore, any decision to approve the use of medicines, or vaccines is going to be based on the weighing of risks and benefits at any point in time.”

The Wits Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics (VIDA) Research Unit, which runs the Oxford Covid-19 vaccine trial in South Africa, recently announced the devastating news about the AstraZeneca vaccine recently.

It was reported that in an analysis submitted as a pre-print prior to peer-review publication, a two-dose regimen of the ‘ChAdOx1 nCoV-19’ vaccine provides minimal protection against mild-moderate COVID-19 infection from the COVID-19 variant first identified in South Africa in mid-November 2020.

Efficacy against severe COVID-19 infection from this variant was not assessed, it was reported. The analyses indicated the vaccine had high efficacy against the original coronavirus non- variants in South Africa.

“Researchers from South Africa and the UK found that viral neutralization by sera induced by the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 coronavirus vaccine against the B.1.351 coronavirus variant were substantially reduced when compared with the ‘original’ strain of the coronavirus. These early data, which will be submitted for scientific peer-review, appear to confirm the theoretical observation that mutations in the virus seen in South Africa will allow ongoing transmission of the virus in vaccinated populations, as has been recently reported in those with prior infection,” the report said.

Formerly known as the Respiratory and Meningeal Pathogens Research Unit (RMPRU) and founded in 1995, the Vaccines and Infectious Diseases Analytics (VIDA) Research Unit of the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) is an internationally recognised, African-led research unit in the field of epidemiology of vaccine preventable diseases, and clinical development of life-saving vaccines.

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