JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) - The African Union's disease control body said on Thursday that it was not "walking away" from AstraZeneca's COVID-19 vaccine, after trial data showed it had greatly reduced efficacy against the coronavirus variant dominant in South Africa.
African countries are due to receive 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca shot this year under an AU vaccine plan.
Africa CDC Director John Nkengasong told a news conference that more work needed to be done to understand how the vaccine worked against the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified in South Africa late last year.
South Africa has paused the rollout of AstraZeneca shots to health workers and said on Wednesday it could seek to sell or swap doses of the vaccine.
Nkengasong added that six countries other than South Africa had reported the presence of the variant. This has alarmed health experts who have raised concerns about its ability to potentially evade the immune response generated by prior exposure to the coronavirus or vaccines.
The six countries are Botswana, Comoros, Ghana, Kenya, Mozambique and Zambia.
"For countries that have not reported the circulation of the 501Y.V2 variant, we recommend that they proceed with the rollout of the AstraZeneca vaccine," Nkengasong said.
"For countries that have reported the circulation of the 501Y.V2 variant, we recommend the acceleration of their preparedness to introduce all vaccines that have received emergency use authorisation or approval by regulatory authorities. Consideration should be given to the effectiveness of the vaccine against the 501Y.V2 variant."
Nkengasong said the Africa CDC would be doing its own evaluations of the AstraZeneca vaccine across multiple countries and that no countries had said they would not be using the vaccine.
He added that the AU was in talks with Johnson & Johnson on the supply of more COVID-19 vaccines, beyond the 120 million doses that already feature in its vaccine plan.
Separately, Kenya said it would move ahead with plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning, Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Emma Rumney; Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Editing by Alison Williams and Nick Macfie)