WHO says study on South African variant effect on AstraZeneca ‘very limited,’ deems COVID-19 vaccine still effective

Kristine Sabillo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 04 2021 11:31 AM | Updated as of Mar 04 2021 11:36 AM

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MANILA — The World Health Organization on Thursday said it still believes that AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine is effective against the South African variant despite a study with a “very small” sample claiming minimal effectivity.

The said study showing a decreased efficacy rate of AstraZeneca’s vaccine against the South African variant, which was also detected in the Philippines this year, from 70% down to 10% was cited by a member of the OCTA Research Group.

WHO Country Representative Rabindra Abeyasinghe said the organization “ has looked very carefully at these reports.”

“The study that was used in South Africa was a very limited scale study. And what it showed was that there was evidence of mild and moderate disease,” he said.

A total of 487,200 doses of AstraZeneca’s vaccines from the COVAX Facility, an initiative organized by WHO and other groups aiming for equitable access to vaccines, are expected to arrive in the Philippines on Thursday evening.

Abeyasinghe pointed out that the goal for vaccines now is to prevent disease and deaths, especially since none of the vaccines available has strong evidence that it can prevent transmission.

“The sample was a very small sample, less than 2000 people (in South Africa). And so, we still believe and WHO released a statement saying, we still believe that the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective, even in places where you have a large proportion of cases which could be attributed to the B1351 variant or the South African variant,” he said.

The WHO official also pointed out that there is no evidence of large-scale presence of the South African variant in the Philippines.
Currently, there are 6 South African variant cases in the country — 2 are returning Filipinos, 3 are local cases and 1 has pending location. 

Abeyasinghe said it is very important that many people are protected as soon as possible to reduce wider transmission of the virus. He said existing health protocols such as the wearing of masks and physical distancing are still effective in controlling the spread of the disease and the arrival of the new variants in the country.

He said the Philippines has a commitment from the COVAX Facility of 4.58 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccines from March to May of this year, on top of the 117,000 doses of Pfizer vaccines.