NATIONAL NEWS - Health Minister Dr Zweli Mkhize has confirmed the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine will still be rolled out as from next week.
This after it turned out that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, developed and imported from India, was expiring in April, a detail government claimed to have only found out about when the jabs last week.
Speaking to SAfm on Monday morning, Mkhize alluded to the arrival of Johnson & Johnson vaccine doses “some time” next week, saying this would come in time for the rollout to begin.
On Sunday, Mkhize announced the halting of the rollout of the vaccine, to the disappointment of 1.2 million healthcare workers who were desperately waiting to be vaccinated against the virus.
This followed a clinical trial showing the doses were ineffective on around 200o patients, averaging around 31 years in age, infected with the newer strain of the virus.
These developments have sparked confusion and outrage, with opposition parties blaming government’s glaring lack of foresight.
The announcement that the efficacy of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine dropped to 22% against the 501.V2 variant was deeply disappointing, said DA shadow health minister Siviwe Gwarube.
“South Africa has been waiting eagerly for the rollout of an effective vaccine for our healthcare and front-line workers. The news that the rollout will be halted due to the reduced efficacy in our domestic circumstances hamstrings this effort and means that we may find ourselves in the throes of another third wave of the Covid-19 pandemic,” warned Gwarube.
The new developments made it even more inexcusable because South Africa negotiated at a higher price the procurement of the vaccine from the Serum Institute of India, said Gwarube.
ALSO READ: Vaccine rollout raises real world questions
While the clinical studies of the efficacy against the new variant were new, the possibility of changing efficacy should have taken into account. At the very least, government should have ensured it wouldn’t be chasing an expiry date deadline, she said.
“We note that the initial clinical findings show that the Johnson and Johnson vaccine has a 57% efficacy rate against the 501.V2 variant and thus could be an the option that South Africa opts for. We also note that Dr Mkhize committed that the Pfizer vaccine will also be brought on board as soon as possible. Now is the time to act speedily and thoroughly,” she urged.
The Economic Freedom Fighters (EFF) called for the immediate consolidation and further research on the efficacy of vaccines on the South African strain 501.V2/B.1.351 by all manufacturers that government had entered into agreements with. The party also wanted Finance Minister Tito Mboweni to divulge the role of Treasury in the vaccine procurement process.
“There must be accountability given to our people on why a vaccine expiring before our phase one roll-out strategy was procured for twice than it was sold in European countries,” the EFF said in a statement.
Two vaccine licence applications were currently pending review at the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA), namely the Johnson & Johnson and Pfizer vaccines, whose application was listed for emergency use.