South Africa starts vaccinations next week with yet to be approved J&J vaccine
London, Feb. 9, 2021 (AltAfrica)-South Africa and J&J appears to have struck a deal and the country will start its immunisation campaign with J & J COVID-19 vaccine after data showed AstraZeneca’s shot offered minimal protection against mild-to-moderate illness from the dominant local virus variant.
Reuters reports that a government factsheet published on Monday said the yet to be approved vaccine-J&J vaccine would be offered from mid-February.
A senior health official said J&J had agreed to speed up deliveries so the first doses would become available around the end of the week.
The vaccination rate reaches 9 percent in the U.S. The Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine is still waiting for emergency use authorization. Dr. Paul Offit, director of the Vaccine Education Center of the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, has more. https://t.co/j19g8ihJrd pic.twitter.com/mRgkV9WiyQ— Good Morning America (@GMA) February 7, 2021
The country, which has recorded the most coronavirus infections in Africa and more than 46,000 deaths, had planned to start offering healthcare workers the AstraZeneca jabs soon but put that plan on hold on Sunday.
“Our vaccine rollout plan has not changed, except that we will begin with the Johnson & Johnson instead of the AstraZeneca vaccine,” the factsheet said.
There is reason to hope the Johnson & Johnson vaccine may fare better in the country.
Initial results from an international test of the vaccine showed it is 57% effective in South Africa at preventing moderate to severe COVID-19. That was less than in other countries — the rate was 72% in the U.S., for example — presumably due to the worrisome variant. It was even more effective — 85% internationally — at preventing the most serious symptoms.
“We can’t wait. We already have good local data,” said Dr. Glenda Gray, director of the South Africa Medical Research Council, who led the South African part of the global trial. She stressed that clinical trials show that the J&J vaccine is safe. Like AstraZeneca’s, it is also easier to handle than the super-frozen vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
South Africa appears to be heeding her call. She said the country is making urgent plans to “roll it out and evaluate it in the field.”
J&J said it was in advanced discussions with South Africa about “potential additional collaborations” to combat COVID-19. “We hope to be able to share more details in the coming days,” it said.
Preliminary trial data showing the AstraZeneca shot does not significantly reduce the risk of mild-to-moderate illness caused by the more contagious 501Y.V2 variant first identified late last year was a disappointment not just to South Africa, but to the continent as a whole.
The 501Y.V2 variant is believed to have spread to nine other African countries, according to a World Health Organization (WHO) epidemiological report last week
The AstraZeneca vaccine is seen as one of the best suited to African health systems as it can be stored at refrigerator temperatures, rather than the ultra-cold temperatures needed for shots from Pfizer/BioNTech .
Global vaccine distribution scheme COVAX plans to start sending millions of AstraZeneca doses to African countries this month.