COVID strain can ‘break through’ vaccine

New research has found the South African virus strain could break through the defences offered by the COVID-19 vaccine.

The South African variant of COVID-19 could “break through” the defences of the Pfizer vaccine, according to a new study out of Israel.

It compared 400 people who had received one or two doses of vaccine but had tested positive for the virus after two weeks, with the same number of unvaccinated patients with COVID-19, reported The Straits Time.

The study, which has not yet been peer reviewed, came from the Tel Aviv University and Israel’s largest healthcare provider, Clalit, and uncovered the South African variant in about one per cent of cases.

But patients who had received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine had the South African strain — known as the B1351 variant — eight times higher than those unvaccinated.

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The research suggests that the Pfizer vaccine is less effective on the South African strain, compared to the original virus and the UK variant, according to the study.

“We found a disproportionately higher rate of the South African variant among people vaccinated with a second dose, compared to the unvaccinated group. This means that the South African variant is able, to some extent, to break through the vaccine’s protection,” said Tel Aviv University’s Adi Stern.

However, the researchers cautioned that the study size was small as the South African variant is relatively rare in Israel and only looked at people who had already contracted the virus, rather than overall infection rates.

A recent trial of the Pfizer vaccine with a group of 800 study volunteers in South Africa, found six people infected with the South African variant and all had received the placebo shot.

The South African strain also appears to reduce the efficacy of the AstraZeneca vaccine’s protection from mild to moderate illness.

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Situation in Australia

The vaccine rollout across the country has hit a number of speed bumps with delays and blood clot concerns, a rare side effect of the AstraZeneca shot.

Labor’s health spokesman Mark Butler said with Australia only passing one million vaccinations this week, the country already trails well behind the UK and US in its attempt to immunise the population.

The government also issued new advice suggesting an alternative to AstraZeneca be given to people younger than 50. The advice has caused concern, both about the side effects and the logistics of acquiring a new vaccine.

While the government has secured another 20 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, the new batches are not scheduled to arrive until December.

However, the vaccine is still seen as the best defence against the virus.

The safety of the COVID vaccines is similar to that of other vaccines. In the Pfizer safety trial, which included over 40,000 people, just 0.6 per cent of participants who received the vaccine reported a “serious safety event” – none of which were assessed as due to the vaccine.

The most common symptoms were pain at the injection site, followed by fatigue and a headache. By comparison, 0.5 per cent of participants who received a placebo vaccine reported a serious safety event.

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