South Africa’s Covid vaccine programme is on the rocks after the government stopped the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine because of worldwide fears it could lead to blood clots in a very small proportion of patients.
The US’s Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has called for a pause in rollout, saying six cases of blood clots in 6.8 million doses had been reported, and it was acting “out of an abundance of caution.”
The J&J jab has been the key component to South Africa’s vaccine program, having secured 30 million doses at the end of March. It is also the only vaccine currently being administered to the country’s health workers.
Therefore, the government’s decision to suspend its rollout throws the entire country’s program into disarray.
In a statement released on Tuesday, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said “In South Africa, we have not had any reports of clots that have formed after vaccination, and this is after having inoculated 289 787 health care workers under the Sisonke Protocol.”
He also stressed that the suspension will only be temporary and will not significantly delay the country’s vaccine rollout.
“Our scientists are confident that the FDA’s decision is on a precautionary basis and we expect that this will not result in the complete withdrawal of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine from the vaccination armament.”
The move has been widely criticised by the country’s health experts.
Wits University’s Professor Francois Venter told Scrolla.Africa, “The decision on the J&J vaccine is poorly thought through.
“South Africa is not just behind the rest of the world, but behind much of Africa. Not a single vaccine has been administered yet, outside of research studies, with delivery only due in May.”
Venter, one of the country’s foremost experts on the virus, also expressed concern that the government’s hasty decision overlooks important practical advantages of the J&J jab, stating “we need a single shot vaccine that can withstand a cold chain, for our rural areas.”
Whereas the Pfizer vaccine must be stored in an ultra-cold freezer at temperatures between -80ºC and -60ºC, the Johnson & Johnson jab can be stored at a temperature between 2ºC and 8ºC.
He concluded, “It is a disastrous programme at the moment.”
Picture source: @WebMD