UK warned to share coronavirus vaccines to avoid deadlier South African COVID-19 variants

Coronavirus variants: There will be ‘constant evolution’ says expert

Professor Shabir Madhi explained coronavirus variants like the one in South Africa would become more common unless “high-income countries” shared their vaccines around the world. He believes the “first-generation” vaccines would be too slow in combating a mutating virus which would mean more lockdowns and research would be needed to deal with new strains. It comes as he warned the AstraZeneca vaccine provides minimal protection for the South African variant which has been found in the UK. 

Speaking on Sky News, presenter Isabel Webster asked the professor about vaccine distribution. 

She said: “Serious questions (are) being raised from around the world about the hoarding by Western nations, particularly by South Africa’s president (who) has spoken out about this.

“Is it your view that perhaps once the UK has started immunising everyone over 50 that they should be donating their vaccines to you guys in South Africa?”

Professor Madhi replied: “Well, it’s not only the UK but it’s also countries such as Canada that have subscribed to more than five times what’s required for their population.

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“And I think those sort of initiatives should be started immediately and not after they’ve got 100 coverage in (their) specific populations.

“Because I think what we’re facing right now is everyone appreciates it’s a global emergency.

“And the fewer people that are vaccinated, the more infections that take place in countries such as South Africa and other countries, the greater the likelihood that there’s going to be an evolution of other variants that are even going to become more resistant to the naturally induced immunity.”

Prof Madhi added: “So what we’re going to be facing is a continuous evolution of the virus with further variants.

“Which are going to eventually spread into the high-income countries who are using first-generation vaccines and then you’re going to start seeing outbreaks because of these variants, which we haven’t been able to control outside of high-income countries  because of lack of access in those other countries to COVID-19 vaccines.”

Worcester: Testing unit set up to detect South African variant

An AstraZeneca spokesman told Reuters: “Oxford University and AstraZeneca have started adapting the vaccine against this variant and will advance rapidly through clinical development so that it is ready for autumn delivery should it be needed.“

The South African variant, or 501Y.V2, was found in the UK in late December, with a travel ban to and from South African quickly introduced after the discovery.

While it is believed only a few hundred cases exist in the UK, Health Secretary Matt Hancock introduced local door-to-door testing for specific postcodes to find where it has spread. 

South Africa received a million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine but has recently paused its rollout as the dose has little effect on their variant. 

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The country continues to use the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

According to the latest government figures, over 12 million people have received their first dose in the UK. 

The Government is aiming to vaccinate 15 million people by the start of next week. 

Around 500,000 people have also received their second dose. 

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