As vaccines are tested for safety, maintain Covid safety protocols

South Africa will halt its rollout of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday.
South Africa will halt its rollout of the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine, health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize said on Tuesday.
Image: REUTERS/ DADO RUVIC

For the second time, South Africa has been caught flat-footed in its attempts at vaccinating sufficient numbers of people to ensure herd immunity against Covid-19, with health minister Dr  Zweli Mkhize’s announcement halting the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on Tuesday.

In February, the government reversed its decision to use the AstraZeneca vaccine after it was found it did not to prevent the local variant of the coronavirus.

Now, the plug has been pulled on the next favoured vaccine after US regulators advised temporary suspension of the J&J rollout in that country after six women developed unusual blood clots within two weeks of receiving the injection.

South Africa is not obliged to take account of what occurs in other jurisdictions, but Covid-19 has resulted in heightened collaboration among research laboratories, manufacturers and medicine regulatory authorities around the globe. It would be foolish not to be guided by the world’s foremost medicines control body.

The government will argue that it is nobody’s fault that it has suspended the treatment.

However, it has been on the back foot since being called out by experts over its lackadaisical procurement of sufficient quantities of vaccines towards the end of 2020.

When AstraZeneca was torpedoed, there appeared to be an unseemly haste to bring the J&J shot to the country. It is not unreasonable to wonder if the country’s subsequent desperation to secure supplies of vaccines caused local regulators to overlook red flags which, in less pressing times, would have delayed SA Health Products Regulatory Authority approval.

The blurring of roles among the top echelon of vaccine researchers is worrying, with the scientists on whom the government depends for advice also playing leading roles in particular vaccine trials on behalf of commercial manufacturers.

The blurring of roles among the top echelon of vaccine researchers is worrying

Healthcare workers vaccinated thus far in the Sisonke J&J trial — from among SA’s 1.25 million doctors and nurses — are effectively guinea pigs for a commercial endeavour, albeit one with altruistic implications.

The government's insistence that only it can procure vaccines for the country means we are restricted to a single channel of treatment which, if it is compromised — as might be the case — offers no alternative option for treatment. 

We must be concerned to get in place a treatment for the worst virus infection in our country since HIV-Aids.

But, if we need to take more time to assure ourselves that the vaccine is as safe as it possibly can be, we must do so. And in the meantime, continue to apply the critical social distancing measures which have brought us this far.


subscribe

Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.