Government to push ahead with AstraZeneca …despite confirming presence of resistant variant

Andrew Kathindi and Kandjemuni Kamuiiri

The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS) is forging ahead with the procurement of AstraZeneca through the COVAX Facility, despite confirming that the South African variant of COVID-19 known as 501.V2, is in Namibia.

Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula confirmed to Windhoek Observer that the Namibia will still receive AstraZeneca through the COVAX Facility, but, however downplayed its ineffectiveness against the variant.

On why Namibia is going ahead with procuring a vaccine that studies deemed ineffective, Shangula said, “No, no, don’t say so. You have no evidence or grounds to say it is useless. Those were the preliminary findings. It was a small, small sample, so you cannot use information from that small sample to make a policy decision. It works.”

The vaccine meant to cure COVID-19 was suspended from distribution by the South African government with efforts made to send it back to the manufacturer, after studies found the vaccine to be ineffective.

According to South Africa’s media reports, the most recent phase of the study, which found the ineffectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine on 501.V2, was carried out on 2,000 people whose average age was 31.

Shangula, who suspected that the variant was in Namibia since last December, stated that the ministry has been handling its approach to the spread of COVID-19 like the variant was already here while waiting for confirmation of Genomic Sequencing results from the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD) in South Africa, which was delayed by three months.

The variant was detected in sixteen 16 samples from ten regions in Namibia out of 81 samples were successfully sequenced and analyzed.

“And it is not only in South Africa and Namibia, all the countries in Africa have the same variant. The variant is the same as the one which we used to have. It’s not only now, it has been with us since last year. All the time, we were handling things like it was already here.”

The Minister downplayed the new variant being stronger than the old strain, despite a high spike in new cases, which was closely linked to the new variant.

The Centre for Disease Control (CDC) Namibian Country Director, Eric Dziuban, previously told Windhoek Observer “The new strains of the coronavirus first discovered in the UK and South Africa appear to spread even easier than the original COVID-19 virus, but there is no evidence yet that they are more harmful for the person who gets infected.”

The Minister’s comments on the vaccine, however come after the Health ministry had indicated that they would request a different vaccine should the variant be confirmed to be spreading in Namibia.

“We have not spent money on the AstraZeneca vaccine. We have spent money to participate in the COVAX facility, which has many vaccines. We can surely state our preferences. As a sovereign country, we have that right. Because the rollout of the vaccine depends on a number of factors. I don’t think it can be that we’re forced to take a particular vaccine,” Health Executive Director, Ben Nangombe, previous told Windhoek Observer.

Namibia has thus far spent over N$28 million for the vaccine. The total proposed budget for Namibia’s Deployment and Vaccination Plan for COVID-19 vaccines is N$583 068 783.84, of which N$484 800 000 is for actual procurement of the AstraZeneca vaccines.

According to the Africa Data Hub, 22 African countries have already received the COVID-19 vaccine. Shangula previously stated Namibia will receive its doses of the vaccine this month.

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