A government official has said after South Africa suspended its roll-out of the shots that the “Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine prevents death and serious illness and is effective against the main variants of the virus in the United Kingdom.”

Pointing out that the dominant strains in the UK were not the South African variant, junior health minister Edward Argar told UK broadcaster Sky News on Monday that the vaccine was highly effective and there was no evidence that it was not preventing hospitalisations and severe illness in the country.

Photo credit: REUTERS

A day earlier, South Africa halted its plans to roll out the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine after data indicated it may give only minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country’s dominant 501Y.V2 strain of coronavirus.

The move stoked fears of a much longer cat-and-mouse battle with the pathogen, with the South African government saying it would await advice from scientists on how best to proceed.

The Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is seen as a critical tool as it is cheap and easier to store and transport than some of the others on the market.