/ 24 March 2021

Single-dose J&J/Janssen Covid-19 vaccine hopes to speed up SA’s vaccination programme

Premier Makhura Visits Netcare Milpark Vaccination Site In South Africa
A high efficacy rate for a single-dose J&J/Janssen Covid-19 vaccine might help to speed up the much-needed roll-out plan .(Photo by Sharon Seretlo/Gallo Images via Getty Images)

The J&J/Janssen Covid-19 vaccine — manufactured by Janssen Pharmaceuticals Companies of Johnson & Johnson — shows an efficacy rate of 85% against the emerging global Covid-19 variants. 

In South Africa, the Janssen Covid-19 vaccine shows an 82% efficacy rate against severe Covid-19 infections, where the majority of trials (95%) were conducted on the 501Y.V2 (or B.1.351) Covid-19 variant. 

Dr Glenda Gray, president and chief executive of the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), presented key findings to parliament on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine product called Ad26.COV2-S, after starting trial proceedings in September 2020. 

Key findings during the third phase of the single-dose trial of Ad26.COV2-S include:

  • 85% vaccine efficacy after 28 days against severe Covid-19 globally, including the United States (US);
  • Consistent vaccine efficacy against severe Covid-19 cases across all regions;
  • The single-dose vaccine offers complete protection against Covid-19 related hospitalisations as of day 28;
  • A 66% vaccine efficacy against moderate to severe/critical Covid-19 across all countries;
  • A single-dose offers protection two weeks after being vaccinated.

With a consistent high efficacy rate, the J&J/Janssen Covid-19 vaccine’s single-dose offers the opportunity to vaccinate the population faster. Gray told parliament that manufacturers are prepared for mass manufacturing of 20-million doses by the end of March, and 100-million doses for the US within the first half of 2021. 

South Africa is in Phase 1 of its nationwide vaccination rollout programme, in which the main focus is to vaccinate healthcare workers. With a target population of over 1.2-million healthcare workers, the latest data reports that 194 257 vaccines had been administered up until 23 March. 

This number concerns Professor Burtram Fielding, a virologist at the University of the Western Cape, who argues the vaccine roll-out plan “is progressing too slow“ while “a third wave is inevitable”.

Current Covid-19 status in South Africa

South Africa saw a drop in Covid-19 cases in the last week, with 1 289 cases recorded on 17 March, before dipping to as low as 210 as of 22 March 2021. 

The National Institute for communicable diseases (NICD) latest weekly report (week 10 of 2021) reported the lowest percentage of testing positive cases since May 2020. In week 10, based on data collected up to mid-March 2021, the percentage testing positive was 4.5% — a significant decrease from 34.7% during the peak of South Africa’s second Covid-19 wave. 

In week 10 the Free State recorded an increase in the percentage of positive cases, while the Western Cape, Eastern Cape, KwaZulu-Natal and Gauteng showed a decrease. 

The third wave

A third Covid-19 wave is expected during the winter while concerns of a possible increase after the Easter weekend cannot be dismissed. 

“If the history of pandemics holds true, the third wave should be smaller than the second, with a lower death rate. This should be a result of the immunity developed due to vaccines and natural infections,” asserts Fielding.

He says he would “not be surprised to see the start of the third wave one to two weeks after Easter,” adding “remember, waves can be halted — by lowering infection numbers per day — simply by changing public behaviours for the positive, even in the midst of a [new] wave”.

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