South Africa will begin vaccinating frontline health care workers with an unapproved coronavirus vaccine by the Johnson & Johnson pharmaceutical company next week to see if it provides protection from the variant sweeping the country.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said Wednesday South Africa dropped plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for now because of concerns it may not be effective against mild to moderate cases of the N501Y variant.
The health minister said the country’s scientists will continue to examine the AstraZeneca vaccine and offer advice on whether to swap out the vaccine before it expires.
The Associated Press reports Mkhize said in a national broadcast the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe, based on testing of 44,000 people in South Africa, the United States and Latin America.
However, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has yet to be approved by any country. The company last week applied for emergency use authorization in the United States.
South Africa is also expected to use the Pfizer vaccine and others to support its immunization program.
South Africa continues to have the highest covid-19 tally on the continent, with more than 1,479,000 confirmed cases and 46,869 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University Covid Resource Center.