Novavax vaccine shown to offer protection against South African Covid-19 variant

The groundbreaking results come as South Africa expects first delivery of AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine in days.

Announced by the lead investigator and Wits University's Professor Shabir Madhi during a late night press conference on Thursday night, the vaccine is the first to show high levels of efficacy against the South African (501Y.V2) and the UK (N501Y) strains of the virus. For the local variant, the level of protection was found to be at 60% while it was shown to be 89% against the UK strain in a separate 15,000-participant Phase 3 trial. The South African leg of the study enrolled over 4,400 participants since it started in August. During the trial, 93% of all positive cases were found to be due to the 501Y.V2 strain, showing how widespread it has become since it was first identified late last year.

“The South African data also emphasise the importance of conducting vaccine trials in South Africa, so that we can evaluate the efficacy of vaccines in the local context,” says Mahdi. The implications of the findings are significant as South Africa awaits delivery of the first batch of AstraZeneca/Oxford’s Covishield vaccine on Monday, as questions continue to be raised about whether the Covishield, Pfizer or Moderna vaccines would be in any way effective against the local variant. Novavax’s vaccine uses “a more tried-and-tested approach” of injecting the virus’s spike protein into individuals, and thus causing an immune response that will destroy the virus later on should there be an encounter.