Astrazeneca shot prevents COVID death: UK

·2-min read

There is no evidence the Astrazeneca vaccine does not prevent death or serious illness, and South Africa has only imposed a temporary halt on using the vaccine, a British junior health minister says.

South Africa will put on hold use of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 shot in its vaccination program after data showed it gave minimal protection against mild-to-moderate infection caused by the country's dominant coronavirus variant.

"There is no evidence that this vaccine is not effective in preventing hospitalisation and severe illness and death, which ultimately is what we're seeking with these vaccines today," minister Edward Argar told Sky on Monday.

"The dominant strains in this country are not the South African strain, there are a small number of cases of that, the dominant strains here are the historic one we've had, and then the Kent variant, against which this vaccine is highly effective."

Israel is currently far ahead of the rest of the world on vaccinations per head of population, followed by the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom, Bahrain, the United States and then Spain, Italy and Germany.

The United Kingdom, which has the world's fifth-worst official death toll, has vaccinated 12.014 million people with a first dose. About half a million people have received a second dose.

The government is aiming to offer a vaccine to all 15 million of the country's most vulnerable by mid-February, including those over 70, healthcare workers and people with pre-existing conditions.

It is confident it will reach the target and aims to offer everyone over 50 a jab by May.

Cases of new variants of the virus have dropped in recent weeks, thanks to the lockdown in place in Britain.

At times, there were more than 70,000 cases a day in December.

Britain recorded 218 new cases of the virus per 100,000 people during the past seven days.

While thousands of individual changes have arisen as the virus mutates on replication and evolves into new variants, only a tiny minority are likely to be important or change the virus in an appreciable way, according to the British Medical Journal.

Among coronavirus variants currently most concerning for scientists and public health experts are the so-called British, South African and Brazilian variants, which appear to be more contagious than others.