Minister of Health Khumbize Chiponda says Malawi is optimistic that its chosen AstraZeneca vaccine will reduce people’s suffering despite new findings indicating that it provides less protection against the South African variant of Covid-19.
The minister, who co-presented an update on Covid-19 cases with Minister of Information Gospel Kazako, said Malawi will roll out the vaccine with an efficacy rate of between 60 and 70 percent while simultaneously verifying whether the majority of Covid-19 cases in the country are caused by the South African variant of the disease.
In an interview after the daily briefing last evening, Chiponda said local scientists and partners such as World Health Organisation (WHO) were discussing the issue with their counterparts in South Africa.
She said: “We are going ahead as planned. The most important thing is that we will reduce the symptoms and reduce suffering.
“People are talking about Johnson and Johnson [which reportedly has higher efficacy], but it is still being developed. We are talking to WHO on what else we can do.”
The minister said she held talks with her South African counterpart Zweli Mkhize to find out more about the study that has prompted South Africa to put on hold its roll-out of the AstraZeneca vaccine jointly developed by Oxford University and Swedish pharmaceutical AstraZeneca.
The AstraZeneca vaccine reportedly appears not effective against the South African variant, but the samples of the study which have led to South African government to put on hold its roll-out of the vaccine was said to be small; hence, the study was not conclusive.
Chiponda said government welcomes conversation on the issue of vaccines. She said public safety was of great importance to government’s considerations as well as ensuring accessibility of the vaccines.
On his part, Kazako pleaded for patience on the matter, saying a group of experts on vaccination will be instrumental in the final determination of the matter but said there were no reasons to worry about the vaccine.
He said the Malawi Immunization Technical Advisory Group, led by experts from various medical colleges, is advising government on the matter.
Hours before the new study raised questions about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine, President Lazarus Chakwera hailed the planned vaccination.
Delivering his weekly address on the pandemic on Sunday, the President said the AstraZeneca vaccine has between 60 and 70 percent efficacy which he said would be enough to save many lives.
South Africa announced on Sunday evening it had suspended the coronavirus vaccine being developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca after researchers found that it provided “minimal protection” against mild to moderate coronavirus infections caused by the new variant first detected in that country.
Reports indicate that besides AstraZeneca, the Pfizer and Modena vaccines were also found to have reduced protection against the mild form of South African variant.
In his Sunday night address, Chakwera said the efficacy of the vaccine, price (estimated at $4 or K3 120 per dose) and storage conditions influenced the choice.