NATIONAL NEWS - The planned phased rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination programme in South Africa will continue with the Johnson & Johnson vaccine in mid-February, according to the National Health Department.
The vaccine is yet to be officially authorised by the SA Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra).
Deputy Director-General of Health Dr Anban Pillay said on Monday 8 February that the first of these vaccines should arrive at the end of the week. A trial conducted on thousands of South African participants showed the vaccine to be effective in preventing deaths and hospitalisation.
Other advantages are that it is a single dose vaccine and can be stored in a fridge.
According to Pillay, Johnson & Johnson had already committed to provide vaccines to South Africa in the second quarter. However, based on the new information on the AstraZeneca vaccine's reduced efficacy against the 501Y.V2 variant, and scientific data showing that the J&J vaccine provided the best option of the available vaccines, the department was able to obtain "some doses".
AstraZeneca 22% effective
This follows the shock announcement on Sunday 7 February by Prof Abdool Karim, chairman of the Covid-19 ministerial advisory committee, that the AstraZeneca vaccine programme was to be temporarily halted.
The vaccine had demonstrated only a 22% efficacy against the 501Y.V2 variant in clinical trials. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine had showed 85% efficacy.
A total of 1,5 million AstraZeneca vaccine doses arrived in the country last week for the first phase of the vaccination programme aimed at health care workers.
Vaccines expiring in April
Pillay said they only learned on arrival of the consignment that the vaccines will expire in April. The vaccines cost the country R120-million.
In an interview with SABC News, Anban said the department has engaged with AstraZeneca and the Serum Institute of India (SII), that the vaccines were bought from, regarding their expiry and efficacy. "We will hopefully hear from them in a day or two."
Pillay said the department had known the vaccine had a six-month expiry period, but the expiry date was not in the paperwork. There are a number of clauses in the agreement with the SII which they have "tried to exercise" in this context.
Regarding what is to be done with the AstraZeneca vaccines, Pillay said, "We need to understand if this vaccine can be used in South Africa and in which group it will be best suited to use. In Europe the vaccine is used in the lower age groups and not in the over-60s.
We are consulting with local and global experts to get a better sense of what the results are actually telling us and where we can best implement these vaccines."
Studies around a booster vaccine specifically for the 501Y.V2 variant are ongoing in some countries where the AstraZeneca vaccine is used as a booster together with the Phizer or Gamaleya vaccines. Pillay said results of how these vaccines are doing together would hopefully be available soon.
"South Africans need to take comfort in the fact that we are constantly looking at the data and are trying to ensure they have access to the best vaccine."
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