MPs slam health department over ’unethical conduct’ in Johnson & Johnson vaccine rollout
Cape Town – The Department of Health came under fire from MPs on Friday over the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being administered to health workers.
They slated the department’s Deputy Health Minister Dr Joe Phaahla and director-general Dr Sandile Buthelezi for failing to clarify whether the Johnson & Johnson vaccines were an official rollout or a clinical trial.
Phaahla and Buthelezi were briefing Parliament’s health committee about the vaccine rollout.
Concerned DA MP Siviwe Gwarube said: "If members of the committee themselves are slightly confused about which is which, whether or not the first phase of the rollout in its entirety is a trial and if so, are healthcare workers very much aware of it and what will be made of the second and third phase of the rollout?"
EFF MP Naledi Chirwa slammed the department for misleading the public and not clarifying that the vaccines were human trials and not a full rollout programme of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, TimesLive reported.
“What do we do with an executive that lies to the portfolio committee? You lie in the news, you lie in your statements. You are liars. What must we do with the fact that you keep coming to the portfolio committee with lies? You lie about important issues,” said an angry Chirwa.
Chirwa added: “It is concerning that the minister and department subverted the ethical process of the trial in regards to firstly performing on healthcare workers participating in this trial.’’
Phaahla said: “It is legally regarded as an expanded study because as we are rolling out, the vaccine is not registered. The documentation for the application for registration of the vaccine has been submitted to Sahpra (South African Health Products Regulatory Authority) and documentation has also been submitted to other authorities.”
Phaahla then told Chirwa: “You cannot just accuse the member of lying and get away with it. I want the committee, through you chair (the ANC's Sibongiseni Dhlomo), to take this matter up with the presiding officers because this member carries on with the accusations.”
Another committee member, NFP MP Shaik Emam Manzoor, lashed the department for being ’’unethical’’ in its conduct and failing to get the consent of front-line healthcare workers to conduct human trials on them, EWN reported.
“It is my understanding that this matter needs to be escalated and if necessary find measures for people to be held accountable for this because many people that have taken these vaccines are of the opinion that this is a rollout for healthcare workers to protect them first.
“In my understanding, what the National Department of Health and Sahpra have done is unethical, because normally in a trial, you would call for people to participate,” Manzoor said.
Phaahla said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been tested in South Africa on human trials in terms of Phase 3, around November and December last year, and it had shown to be effective against the 501Y.V2 variant, with more than a 57% effectiveness in terms of the variant when the variant was becoming dominant late last year.
“It was the only other vaccine that had done human trials in South Africa and shown results not general in terms of the main, original, Covid-19 virus which is all over the world.
Phaahla said the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was “technically and legally” an expanded research in terms of human trials because the doses that were being used in the country were the remaining doses from human trials all over the world.
“It is legally regarded as an expanded study because as we are rolling out, the vaccine is not registered. The documentation for the application for registration of the vaccine has been submitted to Sahpra and documentation has also been submitted to other authorities,” Phaahla said.
He added that because South Africa was eager to start with the programme and Johnson & Johnson had not yet acquired registration of the vaccine with the regulatory authorities, including Sahpra, it meant that it would be considered an expanded study.