South Africa says it may swap or sell its Oxford University/AstraZeneca vaccine doses amid fears it is less effective against the locally dominant variant.
Separately, 20 of the European Union’s 27 member countries will now not use the jab for older people, citing a lack of data over its effectiveness among those populations.
The signs that the vaccine is losing its gloss among some in the international community came as the World Health Organisation backed it for use on Wednesday, for adults aged 18 and over “without an upper age limit”, as well as in countries where variants are circulating.
However, South African health minister Zweli Mkhize said on Wednesday the country would instead start vaccinating health workers with the as yet unapproved Johnson & Johnson vaccine in the form of an “implementation study” some time next week.
South Africa halted use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab after a small study suggested it was not as effective at protecting against mild and moderate Covid-19 caused by the new variant, first identified in South Africa and known as 501Y.V2. The South African variant has now spread to tens of countries around the world.
The Oxford/AstraZeneca is still thought to be effective at preventing severe disease and protecting against other coronavirus variants.
Mr Mkhize said he would wait for advice from scientists before proceeding with the possible sale or switch of its 1.5 million AstraZeneca shots, possibly through the WHO-led Covax scheme.
Separately, South Korea approved use of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine yesterday for all age groups, although it became the latest country to urge caution over using it in over-65 year olds due to a lack of evidence over its effectiveness for older people.
Spain went further, limiting its use only to those under 55-year-olds without any serious pre-existing health conditions.
In total, 20 of the EU’s 27 member states – including France, Germany and Italy – have either ruled out or recommend against using the jab for the elderly, suggesting instead it should be prioritised for use in young, healthy adults.
Other vaccines – such as the Pfizer/BioNTech jab – are more appropriate among older populations because there is more evidence it will protect them from Covid-19, the domestic regulators in the various countries suggested.