Suspension of vaccine roll-out commended
DURBAN - HEALTH-CARE professionals believe the decision by the South African government to halt the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine roll-out amid safety concerns was the right move and would boost public confidence in the process.
They said the government had taken the initiative to stop the vaccination programme without being forced to by a disaster, which stood it in good stead.
Health experts have also weighed in on the issue and said there was no data in the country suggesting that the J&J vaccine was dangerous, but the government was acting out of an “abundance of caution”. They said the suspension would have no effect on the vaccine that was already in the country as it could be stored for a year.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Tuesday night that the J&J roll-out for the Sisonke implementation study would be halted. His announcement comes after the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration recommended a pause in issuing the vaccine.
Six women in the US, between the ages of 18 and 48, developed a rare blood-clotting disorder after getting the vaccine.
Mkhize said that after holding urgent consultations with scientists, the decision was taken to suspend the roll-out until the causal relationship between the development of clots and the vaccine was sufficiently interrogated.
About 290 000 health-care workers across the country have been vaccinated.
In a statement yesterday, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority said together with its scientific expert committees, it had recently reviewed the data from the Sisonke Phase 3b implementation study.
“This study involves the administration of the Covid-19 J&J vaccine. Based on the data, no major safety concerns have been identified. No causal relationship between vaccination and the development of clots is evident at this stage,” it said.
The Democratic Nursing Organisation of South Africa (Denosa) said had government waited until there was a case, or worse, a death, that could have severely undermined the vaccination process in the eyes of the public.
Denosa head of communications Sibongiseni Delihlazo said they welcomed the quick reaction by the government.
“We should remember that in South Africa there has not been a case and we appreciate the government taking precautions, because waiting until there was an incident would have been bad and would have undermined the process.”
Delihlazo said there was some anxiety among the workers who had taken the vaccine and that was to be expected.
He said the government should use this time to prepare its health-care workers for the possibility they might face a similar problem and must closely monitor those who have been vaccinated.
“We have only vaccinated fewer than 300 000 people, a very low number. We should expect that as we vaccinate more people we might encounter situations (like the one in the US) and be prepared,” he said.
Professor Morgan Chetty of the KZN Doctors Coalition said the health ministry was correct in suspending the vaccine. “This is an abundance of caution, you do not want a situation down the line where members of the public complain. Remember that we are sitting with a large group of anti-vaccine people.”
He said the J&J vaccine was going to be a big part of the vaccine programme and the government could not afford for the public not to trust it.
Dr Glenda Gray of the South African Medical Research Council said the suspension would not negatively affect the vaccine.
“The vaccines will not expire. They can be kept for a year.”