South Africa temporarily halts J&J vaccine rollout plan

Health minister Zweli Mkhize has called for calm as South Africa temporarily suspends its Covid-19 vaccine rollout plan for a second time due to rare but severe blood clots developing in six American women who received the Johnson and Johnson (J&) vaccine. 

The announcement follows the advice for temporary suspension of the J&J/Janssen Covid-19 vaccine by the United States Centres for Disease Control (CDC) and the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), made on Wednesday. 

“We have determined to voluntarily suspend our rollout until the causal relationship between the development of clots and the Johnson and Johnson (J&J) vaccine is sufficiently interrogated,” said Mkhize.

“In South Africa, we have not had any reports of clots that have formed after vaccination, and this is after having inoculated 289 787 health care workers under the Sisonke Protocol,” he said. 

A rare and severe type of blood clot was identified by the FDA in six US women between the ages of 18 and 48 after they received the J&J vaccine. Symptoms of the unique thrombus occurred six to 13 days after the vaccination was administered.

It is expected that the CDC will conduct a meeting with its advisory committee on Wednesday 14 April 2021 to further review the cases and assess their potential significance.

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will collect information from Johnson & Johnson, the FDA and other regulatory bodies to make a thorough assessment of the current situation in the country. 

“We hope that the deliberations will only take a few days. Given the preliminary literature on hand, our scientists are confident that the FDA’s decision is on a precautionary basis and we expect that this will not result in the complete withdrawal of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine from the vaccination armament,” the health minister said.

In the “extremely unlikely event” that the J&J rollout was completely halted, “we will not have any impediment to proceed with phase two of the rollout with Pfizer”, he said. 

South Africa has managed to secure another 10-million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, bringing its total of that vaccine to 30-million. The first shipment of two million doses is expected in May. 

Mkhize said that as of Tuesday, the total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in South Africa stood at 1 559 960, the total number of deaths stood at 53 423, and the total number of recoveries was at 1 485 315. 

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Eunice Stoltz
Eunice Stoltz is a general news reporter at the Mail & Guardian.

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