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South Africa Pauses AstraZenca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Roll Out After Study Showed Reduced Efficacy

South African health officials said Sunday, they were pausing the rollout of AstraZeneca’s Covid-19 vaccine after a study showed reduced efficacy against the Covid-19 virus first detected there, CNN reported.

According to early data released Sunday, two doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine were found to provide only marginal protection against mild and moderate Covid-19 from the variant first identified in South Africa.

South Africa Pauses AstraZenca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Roll Out After Study Showed Reduced Efficacy

In the study in which 2000 volunteers averaging 31 years participated, about half were given the vaccine while the other half received a placebo, which does nothing.

Researchers said in a news release that there was a considerable reduction of viral neutralization against the B.1.351 variant as compared with the earlier coronavirus strain, but the study did not assess the of the vaccine against severe Covid-19, hospitalization and death.

South Africa Pauses AstraZenca’s Covid-19 Vaccine Roll Out After Study Showed Reduced Efficacy

The study results by researchers from South Africa’s University of Witwatersrand and others and from the University of Oxford have been submitted for peer-review, and a preprint will be released soon, Oxford said. The details of the study were shared in a press release.

AstraZeneca spokesperson said in a statement on Sunday that the company was working closely with the South African Ministry of Health on how best to support the evaluation against the severe disease of the B.1.351 variant, and in case it proved successful, how to bring the vaccine to the South African people.

The statement added, the company believed its vaccine would still protect against severe disease from the new B.1.351 variant, particularly when the dosing interval was eight to 12 weeks.

In an earlier statement, the company said it was working with Oxford University to adapt the vaccine against the B.1.351 variant to be ready for autumn delivery if needed. 

Meanwhile, on Sunday, Maria Van Kerkhove, World Health Organization’s technical lead for Covid-19, said the WHO’s independent vaccine panel would meet Monday to discuss the AstraZeneca vaccine and what the new study meant for vaccines going forward.

She said on CBS’ Face the Nation that some preliminary studies had shown reduced efficacy, but those studies were not fully published yet.

In a separate report, CNN said, despite the high number of cases, more states and cities were allowing restaurants to open their doors to diners, albeit with limitations. 

Last Friday, Los Angeles said that its restaurants could reopen for outdoor dining with restrictions and 50% capacity, while Chicago reopened with rules calling for masks and physical distancing. New York announced reopening at 25% capacity just in time for Valentine’s Day.

According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, eating inside during a pandemic could be done, but only if it was done carefully.

The director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told CNN’s Don Lemon if one did dine indoors, one did it in a spaced way where one did not have people sitting right next to each other. He added, good airflow was key; what one needed to avoid was breathing in other people’s exhaled breath, which could be laden with the virus.

He said he felt for the restaurants that had been devastated by the pandemic. Restaurant and foodservice industry sales were down by $240 billion in 2020, as per the National Restaurant Association.

Fauci said people sometimes thought that public health officials were oblivious to the economic considerations. He added they were not, rather they were very empathetic towards that, but citizens still had to maintain the public health measures if they wanted to get out of the outbreak.

Linsey Marr, professor of civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Tech who has been studying Covid-19 transmission, said when she and her family drove to Colorado over Christmas, they stopped at a restaurant, picked up take out, and ate outside, CNN reported.

The trend to reopen indoor dining has Marr puzzled. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the safest way to enjoy and support restaurants was take out food.

She said she did not know why restaurants were reopening. She added, she did not think anything had changed from the time restaurants were closed. If anything, it was riskier because of the new variants that were more transmissible.

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