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SA’S vaccines effective on new variant pair and local variant

- THOBEKA NGEMA and RUDOLPH NKGADIMA

HEALTH Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has assured South Africans that the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) and Pfizer Covid19 vaccines in the country have been effective against the B.1.351 (South Africa), B.1.617.2 (India) and B.1.1.7 (Europe, North America) variants.

Mkhize was speaking yesterday on the SABC.

“The interestin­g issue is that the variant in the UK in the first studies done by the UK in fact showed that it was sensitive to immunity generated by the Astrazenec­a, and then the other vaccines were also effective, J&J and so on. The one that was in India is said to have less mutation than the one in

South Africa. They have already confirmed that it is sensitive to immunity generated by the Astrazenec­a vaccine and J&J and Pfizer,” said Mkhize.

“So they are therefore less of a problem when we come to South Africa, compared with the one that we have here which has only been proven having neutralisa­tion from J&J, and of course to Pfizer and Moderna, although in a diluted amount, but neverthele­ss it’s still seen to be effective.”

Mkhize said it did not matter which variant was in South Africa, they did not want anyone to be infected. He said the department would put forward proposals to the National Coronaviru­s Command Council (NCCC) on the feasibilit­y of sealing the country’s borders.

“We have actually done an analysis, and that will come before the NCCC, to look at other countries that are showing much higher risks of spread that could affect South Africa. There is no problem in putting a restrictio­n on India, but you need to understand that it can’t be India alone; there are many other countries."

Mkhize also spoke about new infections and said for every batch of tests, they had found that the number of positive tests was higher, which indicated that there was an increase in the number of people who were infected.

He said it was clear that there might be complacenc­y among citizens, but they were going through recommenda­tions of what else needed to be done to limit the spread of the virus.

He also said that the rest of the provinces were generally quiet, and it was only Gauteng that was beginning to show a big rise in infections.

Meanwhile, the Ministeria­l Advisory Committee on Covid-19 is calling for tighter restrictio­ns on people entering South Africa and is urging the public to continue with non-pharmaceut­ical interventi­ons.

Committee co-chairperso­n Professor Koleka Mlisana said it was the public’s responsibi­lity to wear masks, sanitise and practise physical distancing, irrespecti­ve of the coronaviru­s variant.

“We’ve got to have strict regulation­s at the borders. Those coming in need to be tested and there must be clear guidelines of isolation for those who are positive, and quarantine for those who are negative,” Mlisana said.

“Most of these variants of concern are coming from outside the country; we need to be ready and vigilant. We have to intervene as quickly as possible whenever we see a cluster of infections. There obviously have to be stricter restrictio­ns on whoever is coming to the country, specifical­ly from certain countries.”

On Monday, in From the Desk of the President, President Cyril Ramaphosa said vaccines “should be made available to all, not just to the highest bidders”.

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