By Lehlohonolo Lehana.
Health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize says South Africa will resume its Covid-19 vaccination programme from Wednesday (28 April), following recommendations from Cabinet and the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
South Africa suspended the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on 13 April over concerns that it may lead to dangerous blood clotting in some patients. The vaccine is being used in phase 1 of the country’s rollout which focuses on healthcare workers.
"The programme has, on hand, all the doses it needs to complete vaccinating 500,000 health care workers through the early access protocol and the teams have been eagerly standing by, looking forward to making up for lost time by completing this programme in the shortest possible time," Mkhize said.
He added that vaccination sites will be expanded to 95 sites across the country, with phase 1 of the rollout now scheduled to end on 16 May 2021 with an estimated 1.2 million healthcare workers vaccinated.
"The first 1.1 million doses of market Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccines are ready for dispatch from the Gqebherha plant- we have engaged Johnson & Johnson who have indicated that, with the No-Fault Compensation Scheme now in place they are finalising the last administrative obligations with international health authorities and we should expect the doses to be dispatched in the coming days.
"These vaccines will be flown from the plant in Gqebherha where the final steps of manufacturing, that is fill-and-finish, were completed. They will land in Johannesburg OR Tambo International Airport on the same day and will be transported to the central storage warehouse."
Once quality assurance processes are completed with the South African National Control Laboratory, then the vaccines will be dispatched to the various provinces where they will be stored at over 900 distribution sites across the country, Mkhize said.
"Some of these sites may already be vaccination centres but some are storage hubs from where vaccines will be distributed to vaccination facilities. Media coverage arrangements for the departure of the vaccines from PE and the arrival of the vaccines at OR Tambo international airport will be relayed by government communicators."
Mkhize said that government had to pause the rollout of Johnson & Johnson vaccine after six patients developed a rare clot called a Vaccine-Induced Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia.
The pause was to allow scientists to guide health authorities on the potential relationship between the Johnson & Johnson vaccines and these clots so that a determination could be made if it is still safe to continue using Johnson & Johnson as a vaccine.
"It has since been established there is a one in a million chance of getting the clot after the vaccine and that it appears that women between the ages of 18 and 48 years old are particularly at risk.
With such a low probability of developing a clot, all the regulators across the world have recommended the continued use of Johnson and Johnson," he said.
Despite the low risks, Mkhize said that healthcare workers will now receive an SMS upon vaccine registration which will direct them to give consent to participate in the programme.
"As we move forward with the rollout, if anyone develops headaches or abdominal pain, vomiting, blurry vision or other neurological or abdominal symptoms after being vaccinated, one should seek medical attention immediately as these could be signs of a VITT.
"There are also several ways of reporting any vaccine-related side effects – you may call the Covid-19 hotline on 0800 029 999, use the newly launched SAHPRA Med Safety App or, if you are a Sisonke participant, you can call the Sisonke Safety Desk on 0800 014 956."