Cape Town - Leading vaccinologist Professor Schabir Madhi has described the government's decision to temporarily suspend the country's Johnson & Johnson vaccine roll out as “unfortunate“.
Health Minister Zweli Mkhize announced on Tuesday evening that he had considered developments in the US, where the rollout of the J&J vaccine was halted due to fears over cases of “dangerous clotting” in six cases after patients had received the single-dose vaccine.
Madhi said that the situation was unfortunate given that South Africa was limited in its choice and access to Covid-19 vaccines.
In February, South Africa halted the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine over similar fears and instead opted for a combination of the J&J and Pfizer vaccines, while the use of Russia's Sputnik vaccine is still being investigated by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).
Madhi said the delay in widening the options of vaccines to include the Sputnik vaccine was due to it not being approved by the World Health Organization (WHO) as yet.
"Both the Sputnik and Sinopharm (China) vaccines are yet to be approved by the WHO. They are currently under review. An external review from the WHO will assist in South Africa making a decision on those vaccines," said Madhi.
He said he was unsure over the exact reasons for the halting of the J&J rollout, but alluded that it could just be a precautionary measure.
"What this demonstrates is that a proper risk assessment was not done and this could lead to interruptions of the vaccine rollout programme and vaccine hesitancy," said Madhi
Mkhize said the Department of Health has noted the decision taken by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to advise the temporary suspension of the J&J rollout in the US.
“We have determined to voluntarily suspend our rollout... I humbly call for calm and patience as we ensure that you will continue to be properly guided by science and ensure the safety of our people as we roll out the vaccine campaign. We hope that the deliberations will only take a few days," said Mkhize.
The J&J vaccine is part of the Sisonke implementation study rollout and close to 290 000 healthcare workers have received the shot.
South Africa has procured 31 million of the J&J one-dose vaccine.
J&J said in a statement it would delay the rollout of the vaccine in Europe.