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AstraZeneca shares wobble as South Africa halts vaccine rollout

Tom Belger
·Finance and policy reporter
·2-min read

Watch: South Africa suspends Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine rollout

AstraZeneca (AZN.L) has sought to reassure the public over its vaccine’s effectiveness after the South African government paused its rollout among health workers.

It comes after a small study suggested the drugmaker’s vaccine with Oxford University struggled to protect against mild to moderate illness among the young caused by the South African variant of COVID-19.

The study by researchers at the University of Witwatersrand and Oxford University led the South African government to halt use of vaccine among healthcare staff.

Shares in the London-listed pharmaceutical giant wobbled on Monday, sinking around 0.5% in early trade before heading into the green. The stock was up 0.3% by mid-morning local time, though UBS analysts said the vaccine was not a driver of the company’s net present value “as it is a not-for-profit effort.”

But UK health minister Edward Argar said on Monday only 147 cases of the variant had been identified in the UK.

AstraZeneca's vaccine has only limited effectiveness in preventing more mild illness caused by the South Africa variant of COVID-19. Photo: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters
AstraZeneca's vaccine has only limited effectiveness in preventing more mild illness caused by the South Africa variant of COVID-19. Photo: Ueslei Marcelino/Reuters

READ MORE: 147 cases of South African variant in the UK identified

He and vaccine minister Nadhim Zahawi echoed AstraZeneca and Oxford University in arguing the jab would still protect against severe illness linked to the variant.

Zahawi also said the current rollout in Britain should give people “confidence” the vaccine would protect them, in an article for the Daily Telegraph. He said the jabs being used in Britain “work well against the COVID-19 variants currently dominant in the UK.”

Argar added in an interview with Sky News: “There is no evidence that this vaccine is not effective in preventing hospitalisation and severe illness and death, which ultimately is what we're seeking with these vaccines today.

"The dominant strains in this country are not the South African strain, there are a small number of cases of that, the dominant strains here are the historic one we've had, and then the Kent variant, against which this vaccine is highly effective."

AstraZeneca shares see-sawed on Monday (8 February). Chart: Yahoo Finance UK
AstraZeneca shares see-sawed on Monday (8 February). Chart: Yahoo Finance UK

He also said it was possible there could be a need for booster shots in the future to tackle variations of the disease.

Britain has now vaccinated more than 12 million people, while death and infection rates have begun to fall.

Analysts at UBS noted: “Companies, including Oxford/AZN, are working on new generations of vaccines to deal with the current and future variants. Given the flexibility of the novel technology platforms as well as the ability to include up to seven antigens in the Novavax nanoparticle vaccine, hopefully this work can progress quickly.”

Watch: When can lockdown finally end? This is what scientists are looking out for