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South Africa will switch to Johnson & Johnson vaccine to protect against COVID variant

The single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is still unapproved and will be given on a study basis to front-line workers.

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Doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine
Doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine
(JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
Updated: February 10, 2021 - 8:28am

South Africa said Wednesday that front-line health workers will receive the unapproved Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to see whether it protects against the virus and its variant dominant in the country – after ending plans to use the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine because it was ineffective.

The country’s health minister, Zweli Mkhize, said the Oxford vaccine "does not prevent mild to moderate disease" of the variant virus.

The one-shot J&J vaccine is still being tested internationally and has not been approved in any country, according to the Associated Press.

In a nationally broadcast address, Mkhize declared that the vaccine is safe, based on tests of 44,000 people done in South Africa, the United States and Latin America.

The J&J vaccine will be used to launch the first phase of South Africa’s campaign in which the country’s 1.25 million health workers will be inoculated.

Mkhize said the workers will be closely monitored.

The first round of shots will be followed by a campaign to vaccinate an estimated 40 million people in South Africa by the end of the year. The country will also be using the Pfizer vaccine and others, possibly including the Russian Sputnik V, Chinese Sinopharm and Moderna vaccines, Mkhize said, also according to the wire service.