Medical experts in dilemma over COVID-19 variants 

Source: Medical experts in dilemma over COVID-19 variants – NewsDay Zimbabwe


HEALTH experts yesterday warned that the current COVID-19 vaccination programme might not effectively deal with the new mutants of the coronavirus.

They said most of the vaccines currently in use were factory-made last year using a structure of the virus, before the emergence of new variants which are more resistant.

Zimbabwe is currently implementing its inoculation programme, where it is targeting to vaccinate approximately 60% of the population to curb the spread of COVID-19.

The vaccines that are currently being used are the Chinese-made Sinopharm and Sinovac, which were developed during the first strain of the virus.

The warning by the health experts comes at a time the South African government has halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine after a study showed that it was not effective in dealing with the new coronavirus variant in the neighbouring

This was after recent data from a trial done in that country showed that AstraZeneca was not effective against mild and moderate symptoms of the more contagious South African variant, also known as 501.V2 or B.1.351.

The Zimbabwean government in February began COVID-19 vaccinations after receiving a donation of 200 000 doses from the China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).

Last week, the southern African nation took delivery of 400 000 doses, while more are expected.

Mpilo Central Hospital acting chief executive officer Solwayo Ngwenya said there could be devastating effects if the third wave of the coronavirus struck, especially given that the vaccines were manufactured during the first strain of the virus.

“The problem is after you have vaccinated, you were vaccinating against that variant from last year, and there is now a new variant. Can you go and order another 20 million doses?” he asked rhetorically.

“This is a terrible situation we found ourselves in. The vaccine which you are using was made using a structure of the virus which was there last year. If the virus is a new type, it can’t lock, so you are not protected, which means your all-weather person has to check what is favourable in Zimbabwe. Go back and create a new vaccine.”

Medical and Dental Private Practitioners of Zimbabwe Association president Johannes Marisa concurred with Ngwenya, saying the current vaccines might not be very effective as the new variants were mutants.

“The third wave has various variants which are mutant and could be resistant to the already available vaccines because they were manufactured before the emergence of the new variants,” he said.

“Even those who do not have comorbidities will be affected. Locally, we can avoid being hard hit by the third wave if people follow the laid out World Health Organisation (WHO) protocols of social distancing, wearing of masks and sanitising.”

But Zimbabwe Association of Doctors for Human Rights secretary Norman Matara said there could not be a conclusive claim that the manufactured vaccines would not be effective as there was no scientific evidence yet to prove that.

“The vaccines we are using might be very effective to the third wave variants. It all depends on the mutation on the new variants to judge the effectiveness of the vaccine after scientific studies, which include trial of the vaccine on COVID-19-related fevers,” he said.

“There is a need for such scientific researches to conclude whether or not the available vaccines are effective.”

Community Working Group on Health executive director Itai Rusike said the public should be confident of the efficacy of the WHO-approved vaccines as there was a possibility that new variants would continue emerging.

“COVID-19 is not going away any time soon. There are going to be as many COVID-19 waves in future with new variants and scientists cannot manufacture vaccines for each new variant each day. Therefore, what is needed is trust of the certified vaccines by WHO, which have been tested and proved to be effective for the viruses,” he said.

Efforts to get a comment from the Health ministry over the issue were fruitless as Health deputy minister John Mangwiro told NewsDay that he was very busy and could not take questions.

Chief co-ordinator of the national response to COVID-19, Agnes Mahomva, was not responding to calls.

Meanwhile, Ngwenya added that the decision to open schools in the middle of a pandemic could be disastrous.

“Why do you want to sacrifice children’s’ lives yet they can learn later? If Ngwenya lost four years of education, but here I am, they are now calling me a professor. Let’s not sacrifice our lives for something which we can wait for,” he said.

“So, as a hawk, I am against opening of schools in the middle of a pandemic. Let’s not sensationalise this thing as if we have found a cure, we have not found a cure. We are actually facing a better threat. As I said, the vaccines will be made redundant. The vaccine is against the spike, when the spike changes, the vaccine is useless.”

Ngwenya said a third wave would be more fatal.