Go back

Local vaccine data crucial, South African MPs told

Image: MRC

Rollout without locally verified info could create ‘therapeutic misconception’ says Glenda Gray

The head of the South African Medical Research Council has said that local data is key to any Covid-19 vaccination programme in the country.

Glenda Gray told MPs in Parliament on 24 March that wide vaccine rollout without local data could lead to “therapeutic misconception”, where individuals think wrongly that they are protected against the virus and become infected.

“We can’t deduce vaccine efficacy without local data,” she said.

Gray said that local efficacy data exists for three of the four available Covid-19 vaccines. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine currently being administered to healthcare workers has 64 per cent efficacy against moderate to severe symptomatic infection by the variant most commonly found in South Africa.

This is comparable to efficacy elsewhere in the world for the Johnson & Johanson vaccine, Gray said.

She added that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has other benefits for local distribution. It does not need dilution, can be stored in normal refrigerators for 30 months, can be frozen for two years, and its makers are prepared for large-scale manufacture.

Gray said the vaccine developed by Novavax has only 50 per cent efficacy against symptomatic infection with the local variant and that the AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine protects only 10 per cent against symptomatic infection with the local variant. 

“We are in a data-free zone. We have no evidence that AstraZeneca vaccine will work against mild, moderate or severe disease in South Africa,” said Gray.

She added that the South African Medical Research Council expects that by July there will be “massive access to vaccines” in the country.

There is no data at present on how the Pfizer vaccine fares against the Covid-19 variant dominant in South Africa, Grey said.

The SAMRC has been awarded R150 million (US$10m) to carry out a phase 3B open label trial on the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine among healthcare workers. 

Gray said most “adverse reactions” to the vaccines have been due to “long Covid” and allergies. She said the last 200,000 vaccine doses for the trial will arrive in the country over the next two weeks.