by Sakeus Iikela

WORLD Health Organisation representative to Namibia Charles Sagoe-Moses says the Covid-19 vaccine produced by AstraZeneca is still scientifically safe to use in Namibia despite the country recording various cases of the new variant.

The ministry of health yesterday announced that Namibia has recorded 16 cases of the Covid-19 Variant of Concern (VoC), which was reported in South Africa late last year.

The AstraZeneca vaccine, which Namibia has ordered in large quantities, has not been effective against this variant, as reported in South Africa.

To date, the government has paid at least N$29 million or 15% of the initial purchase price of N$169,5 million to WHO’s Covax facility for about 127 000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses.

The government ordered the AstraZeneca vaccine despite neighbouring South Africa stopping its distribution after concerns over its effectiveness against the new Covid-19 variant.

Reports in South Africa show that the vaccine offered minimal protection against the virus after the preliminary trial.

The neighbouring country has since ordered a different vaccine produced by Johnson and Johnson in America.

However, Sagoe-Moses says the vaccine from AstraZeneca is still safe to use.

Sagoe-Moses and UNDP’s country representative, Alka Bhatia, were part of the delegation that escorted new UN resident coordinator to Namibia Sen Pang to meet president Hage Geingob at State House yesterday.

Sagoe-Moses, who was responding to concerns by Geingob, said although there might not be enough data on the AstraZeneca vaccine’s efficacy on the new variant, it is still effective “on the original virus.

The WHO representative said the study done in South Africa is also not conclusive, as it was based on a small population of young people.

“The most important age group that we are concerned about is the older age group because that’s where we have the severity of the disease, hospitalisation and deaths. The scientific committee found that countries should continue using the vaccines to get enough data to cover that age group,” Sagoe-Moses said.

He added that the vaccine is also safe since “many countries are already using it”.

Namibia is also expecting about 130 000 donated vaccine doses from China and India combined.

Health minister Kalumbi Shangula this month said the government will spend close to N$600 million on the procurement and deployment of Covid-19 vaccines.

Yesterday, Shangula said the country has made progress in terms of preparations to receive the vaccines “anytime”.

Meanwhile, the executive director in the ministry of health, Ben Nangombe, in a statement issued yesterday, said the 16 positive cases reported in the country were tested as part of the larger group of 81 samples that were studied for the new Covid-19 variant between October 2020 and February 2021.

Nangombe said the results of the genomic analysis indicate that there is a diversity of lineages/clades of the virus in Namibia.

“Based on these results, we now know that the variant identified in South Africa is present in Namibia. The variant was detected in 16 samples from 10 regions. However, its presence in other regions cannot be ruled out,” Nangombe said.

Nangombe said the country will expedite plans to setup a local genomic sequencing facility.

“Genomic sequencing results will also inform important policy decisions in our Covid-19 response and preparedness, including the selection of vaccines and other medical interventions,” he said.

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