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Malawi Sticks To AstraZeneca Vaccine Despite Concerns Over Efficacy

Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera says the country will acquire the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, despite concerns about its efficacy.

Chakwera, on Sunday evening, announced Malawi had acquired 1.5 million doses and that additional ones were on the way to vaccinate a total of about four and a half million people. Chakwera said Malawi, one of Africa's poorest countries, settled for the AstraZeneca vaccine because it is cheaper.

In a televised address on the fight against COVID-19, President Chakwera said the vaccine type coming to Malawi has an average of 60 to 70 percent efficacy. He said although the efficacy is lower than other vaccine types, the AstraZeneca vaccine has one great advantage over the other vaccines: its cost.

“At four dollars a dose, it costs two and a half times less than the two other vaccine types, almost four times less than a third type, five times less than a fourth type, and eight times less than a fifth type," he said.

However, South Africa has decided to put a hold on the AstraZeneca vaccine jabs after studies showed minimal protection against the COVID-19 variant that is currently circulating in the country.

Before widespread circulation of the more contagious variant, the vaccine showed efficacy of around 75%. Still, health officials say in a later analysis of its strength against the new variant; it shows a 22% efficacy rate.

President Chakwera announced last week that Malawian scientists had confirmed that the country now has a more contagious new strain of the virus from South Africa known as 501Y.V2. In his address Sunday, Chakwera said the country’s rate of infection is too high.

“Over the course of this past week, 2,987 new infections were confirmed by our testing facilities across the country. This represents a 22 percent positivity rate. And while it is lower than the 29 percent positivity rate from last week, it is still higher than the 0 to 5 percent rate we are aiming for," he said.

Dorothy Ngoma, former president of Malawi’s National Organization of Nurses and Midwives, says Malawi should take vaccine with caution.

“Because we have both viruses raging in our country, there is still an advantage to be protected from the first virus, probably the one which was put at 75 percent efficacy. And if that’s correct, then it makes sense because as long as it [the vaccine] is a gift,” she said.

Ngoma said the government would consider buying vaccines with more efficacy rates once they have money to do so. Social commentator Humphrey Mvula disagrees.

“Life is not cheap. We will not compromise on the vaccine price, which does not address the concerns that we have on COVID-19. We should be able to base on the experience of South Africa. We should now engage our scientists; medical experts do an analysis on the strain that is prevalent in Malawi and then advise the government accordingly,” he said.

The chairperson for the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Dr. John Phuka, said Monday that the task force would soon decide whether to proceed with the AstraZeneca vaccine rollout — based on findings of its efficacy on the new strain of the virus.

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