MASERU – The National Covid-19 Secretariat (NACOSEC) Chief Executive, Dr Malitaba Litaba, has defended the country’s use of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine.
This is despite South Africa’s suspension of its roll out after a study found it to be less effective against Covid-19 variant first identified in their country – B.1.351.
While little Genomic sequencing has been done in Lesotho Litaba says a few samples which were taken to a sequencing lab in SA all showed the B.1.351 strain/variant.
“All the samples came showing the SA strain, which was not surprising,” Litaba said. She said the sequencing was only done around January when the positivity rate was high and mostly among travellers.
She said chances were high that the variant was South African since most travellers were from SA.
She was responding to questions by Public Eye on what corona virus variants the country was dealing with and how many samples have been taken for sequencing. Genomic sequencing is a process of determining the order of chemical bases of a DNA molecule.
Scientists use sequences to identify genes, regulatory instructions, or in the case of Covid-19, mutations to the virus. Continued genome sequencing supports the monitoring of the disease’s spread and evolution of the virus.
Since then (January), the country has not made efforts to identify the variants it is dealing with. Litabe said genomic sequencing is only done when there is an abnormal situation.
“It’s not necessary now,” she said.
When SA stopped administration of the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine, there were concerns that Lesotho had gone ahead to roll out AstraZeneca despite being entirely surrounded by SA but Litabe says the SA study which eventually recommended suspension of AstraZeneca was biased.
Apart from the fact that their samples were scant, she says the country has done away with the vaccine because they were determined to use other vaccines.
“They had alternatives, which is different with us,” she said.
She also explained that latest studies which were done with larger samples/populations from the United Kingdom and India have shown that the AstraZeneca vaccine is effective to a certain extend hence the decision to go ahead with its roll out as the country.
“It’s not all bad,” she added.
Lesotho has vowed to use only World Health Organization (WHO) approved vaccines in its vaccination drive. The country has so far received 36 000 doses of the AstraZeneca through the Covax facility, an initiative by WHO to supply poorer countries with fully subsidised vaccines.
The doses were administered on health workers and other essential services. Vaccinations continue at selected centres with priority being given to people with underlying conditions such as TB, HIV, Cancer, Asthma and Sugar Diabetes.
The Kingdom recorded its first Covid-19 case in May last year after which cases increased exponentially, especially around the December holidays. However, there has been a significant drop in the cases lately, prompting the government to relax Covid-19 restrictions. With a population of just over two million, the country has reported 10 730 cases with 6 267 of those having recovered from the virus.
WHO has also called on African countries to “build and boost” genomic surveillance, recommending that countries ship at least 20 samples per month to sequencing laboratories.