However, the news, even in the lab, wasn’t good. The tests, done independently at two different labs, found that “much of the antibody that was induced by the vaccine was not actually active against the variant that was currently circulating in SA, the B.1.351 variant”.
“So we’ve seen a substantial drop off, in terms of the ability of the vaccine-induced antibody to neutralise the activity of the virus when tested in the laboratory. Obviously, that would be reason enough to be concerned that the vaccine might not do what we actually set up for it to achieve … if these antibodies are not working that well in the laboratory,” he said.
And, he said, this is what showed with the trial participants.
“So unlike … where we had a 75% reduction of Covid-19 14 days after the first dose of the vaccine until the October 31, when we analysed the individuals in terms of how well the vaccine work against the variant predominantly, what we observed was very little difference in terms of the case accumulation between the vaccine group and the placebo group.
“Consequently, the bottom line, in terms of these results, is that there was a 22% difference - a 22% lower risk of developing Covid-19 - in the vaccinated group, but that was not statistically significant. So we can say that we have not proven that this particular vaccine protects against Covid-19, and particularly against Covid-19 which is a consequence of infection by the B.1.351 variant.
“That is largely disappointing news, but what I need to emphasise again at this point, is that two-thirds of the Covid-19 cases in this particular study were due to mild infection, and the other third that were due to moderate illness. So what this data doesn’t tell us is whether or not this vaccine might still protect against severe Covid-19, especially individuals that have higher risk of developing severe disease,” said Madhi.