Australia urges calm over AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after South Africa suspends use

FILE PHOTO: A vail of the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is seen at Basingstoke Fire Station, in Basingstoke, Britain February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Peter Cziborra/File Photo

CANBERRA (Reuters) - Australia on Monday moved to reassure its citizens over the efficacy of AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine after South Africa suspended use of the shot because data showed it offered limited protection against a new strain of the virus.

Citing data that showed the AstraZeneca vaccine reduced mild-to-moderate COVID-19 by 22%, South Africa said on Sunday it would put on hold the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine.

But Australia's Minister for Health, Greg Hunt, said the vaccine is effective in its primary objective.

"There is currently no evidence to indicate a reduction in the effectiveness of either the AstraZeneca or Pfizer vaccines in preventing severe disease and death. That is the fundamental task, to protect the health," Hunt told reporters in Canberra.

Australia is expected approve the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine within days. Last month, it approved the use of the Pfizer -BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine, although it has secured enough doses for less than half of its population and orders remain delayed.

Australia is expected to begin using the Pfizer vaccine later this month though Canberra's hopes for a complete inoculation programme rests with the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The country has ordered 53 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, the vast majority of which will be manufactured locally by CSL Ltd.

Australia, however, is under less pressure to begin COVID-19 inoculations after successfully suppressing the spread of virus.

On Monday, just one new local case of COVID-19 was reported.

Australia has had just over 28,800 cases in the past year and 909 deaths.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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