Why is Zambia using a vaccine rejected by South Africa because of low efficacy?

Health Minister Jonas Chanda
Health Minister Jonas Chanda

Disclaimer: This question is not about safety of the vaccine. Benefits of vaccines may outweigh the risks.This question is about efficacy( It may be safe but is it effective?)


On December 30 2020, the then Minister of Health Chitalu Chilufya announced an increase in Covid-19 cases that were linked to South Africa’s new variant 501Y.v2 or B.1.351 which was more contagious and had become dominant in may areas in the country

This was confirmed by a CDC report that stated that the 16 fold increase in covid-19 cases in Zambia were due to the South African variant. The South African mutation was first detected in that country in October 2020.The South Africa mutation, known by scientists as B.1.351, was first detected in Zambia in December.The daily average of new cases rose from 44 in the first 10 days of that month to 700 in the first 10 days of January.

Click here for CDC Report

This means the dominant strain in Zambia from December was the South African variant.

Reaction to the Second Wave

Following South Africa’s devastating second wave, Health Minister Zweli Mkize announced that South Africa had secured 1.5-million doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.This decision came amidst growing public pressure for South Africa to begin its national vaccine roll-out, ahead of vaccine doses secured through the international procurement mechanism, COVAX. At the time, a big factor considered by the health department was which companies could deliver doses immediately, given the limited stock availability due to high global demand for the jabs, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize said during a televised address.

Whilst in Zambia, Chief Spokesperson Dora Siliya announced that Government had approved Zambia’s participation in the free COVAX facility program to vaccinate 40% of the country’s population.
click here to read on Covax facility

Efficacy of AstraZeneca against South african variant

However, after South Africa bought AstraZeneca vaccines from the Serum Institute of India, results from a small local study with only mild and moderate infections showed that the vaccine was not effective against the 501Y.V2 variant. The results from the study showed that AstraZeneca was only 21.9% effective against SARS-CoV-2 in South Africa.

When researchers isolated those cases of participants who were infected with the new variant of the virus (B.1.351 or 501Y.V2) they noted that the jab was only 10.4% effective. Further, laboratory studies confirmed that the variant was able to completely escape the vaccine’s immunity. Because of this the AstraZeneca rollout was halted.

South African  experts, including the government’s ministerial advisory committee on vaccines, said the move to halt the roll out of the AstraZeneca vaccine was in line with South Africa’s evidence-based approach to COVID-19 decisions.

Dr. Benjamin Kagina, a senior research officer at Vaccines for Africa Initiative explained that the South African arm of the trial showed that AstraZeneca did not provide enough protection against mild to moderate COVID caused by the newly identified variant.

South Africa then decided to sell its stock of  AstraZeneca doses on 15 March, a few weeks after a WHO expert group concluded that the “potential benefits [of the AstraZeneca vaccine] outweigh the known and potential risks”.

The WHO recommended the use of the vaccine even in countries such as South Africa where new variants are in circulation for which the jab had shown reduced efficacy.

“[The WHO] is simply saying go with it, because we think it’s still going to work. It’s a speculation,” explained Ministerial advisory committee for COVID vaccines, Barry Schoub. “There’s no evidence.”

In a Lancet publication entitled “COVID-19 vaccine efficacy and effectiveness—the elephant (not) in the room” , Olliaro,Torreel and Vaillant elucidate that it is important to know whether a vaccine with a given efficacy in a study population will have the same efficacy in another population with different levels of background risk of COVID-19. This is not a trivial question because transmission intensity varies between countries, affected by factors such as public health interventions and virus variants.

As part of the COVAX countries perhaps,Zambia did not have a choice in the say on the use of AstraZeneca vaccines for the pilot program.But as custodians of the health of Zambians, Government should explain which  Evidence Based Data is being used to inoculate 40% of the population with a vaccine that is not efficacious according to South African studies where like Zambia the B.1.351 strain is dominant.

By Concerned Zambian

Sources: CDC Report,Lusakatimes,Lancet


  1. People are posting pictures on facebook after they received a vaccine that is 10% effective. Poverty is really a curse!!!

  2. Stop commenting on things you have no idea about. We have very capable and highly intelligent medical researchers. We don’t need a nobody f00ling people and sending out fayke news. Fusekeiwe.

    Meanwhile Good for chauvin. But I am so concerned because you upnd diasporans arw being killed there abroad by police because you are black. And yet you come here to insult us free zambians everyday. Don’t take your frustrations out on us.

  3. We asked these questions before the administered it and were attacked by the brainwashed pro vaccine pundits.

  4. How long did it take Zambia to have medicines for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
    Further overstay and spread of the Covi-19 must be halted so you cartel the mutations resulting into variants.
    If this Oxford’s AstraZeneca (AZ) can currently provide from mild to minimum crucial protection our health system won’t be overwhelmed.
    J and J, Pfizer or Moderna may not be as economical in buying and logistics. Besides not all vaccines are NOT 100% effective and may need 2nd or 3rd doses.

  5. The problem with you reporters or whoever you are, don’t try to alarm people on things you have little understand. You are busy plagiarizing to try to make yourself look intelligent.
    Did you read how the South African doctors reacted when they heard that their govt. was going to sell the AstraZeneca vaccine?
    Do you when the efficacy on the vaccine was done and how many subjects were involved initially?
    The scientific world have come to the agreement that all the vaccines are effective against all the Corona variants.
    If you have manufactured a new vaccine in your garage which you think will be very effective against the variants ,please present it for testing other wise your article belongs to the dust bin

  6. I know nothing about vaccines. But I do know that 80,000 doses is only enough for 40,000 people (with two doses each). And that the corrupt PF government didn’t pay ONE kwacha for them, they are as usual dependent on foreign resources. 40,000 people: that’snot even enough for first line health personnel, let alone the security forces etc. Typical corrupt PF: rather than spending money on vaccines for their people they waste it on useless criminal PF cadres. I’m surprised that Lungu can even sleep at night…. He really can’t have any conscience for sure.

  7. Government should not treat Zambians like kids. It is the job of the Ministry of Health to provide answers to questions. People should be allowed to make informed decisions.If the goal is to protect only 10% of the total people vaccinated they should say so.

  8. The government does not pride in seeing their citizens sick die like rats.
    South Africa can not represent the whole of the continents in terms of standards. By the time RSA realises they still need AZ, perhaps that will be too late. Sometimes we become overly cautious for nothing.

  9. How long did it take Zambia to have medicines for Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV)
    Further overstay and spread of the Covid-19 must be halted so you curtail the mutations resulting into variants.
    If this Oxford’s AstraZeneca (AZ) can currently provide from mild to minimum crucial protection, our health system won’t be overwhelmed.
    Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer or Moderna may not be as economical in buying and logistics. Besides all vaccines are NOT 100% effective and may need 2nd or 3rd doses.

  10. @10 Razor
    The drugs are not free. African Union (AU) is funding the purchase. South Africa is chair to AU and are seemingly in charge of Africa. Per dose each country is paying more than USD10 and not less that $3 through the Afreximbank headquarters in Cairo

  11. @Albert why should it be wrong to ask a valid question? If they gave people Coca Cola to treat corona virus you would tell us to shut up if we asked why.Zambians are no longer illiterate thanks to the wonderful education received under KK.

  12. @14 Maharaji
    There is nothing wrong in being apprehensive. Danger comes when your mistrust and anxieties overshadow vaccine benefits. Some people have genuine concerns. It is not mandatory to receive a jab. But those in the ‘front line’ are encouraged to be inoculated to further save lives.

  13. The vaccine may not be effective against the South African Covid-19 strain but what we also know is that we have various strains that the vaccine has proven effective. You vaccinate everyone so that other strains don’t take root in Zambia and get a chance to mutate further and once a booster shot is available to combat new strains then we administer them at that time. If you are given a chance, get vaccinated for now and wait while Scientists work on a booster shot that can combat South African
    It is better having some protection than none. It is like saying condoms work 99% of the time but a 1% chance that you still get HIV or someone pregnant, will that justify you not to use condoms? Absolutely not. Get the vaccine and let’s end this pandemic which has crippled the world…

  14. @Folekani you mention condoms work 99% of the time -that is a very good efficacy . would you use condoms if they only worked 10% of the time like this astrazeneca vaccine? Has there been surveillance in Zambia to know if we have other strains? The CDC and Ministry of Health confirmed the dominant strain in Zambia to be the South African Strain.


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