South Africa has temporarily suspended the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, Health Minister Zweli Mkhize told reporters late Tuesday.
Mkhize said the decision was taken after the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommended the temporary suspension of the vaccine’s use in the United States following reports of six women developing unusual blood clots with low platelets after receiving it.
‘‘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.
Mkhize said that after seeing the advisory from the FDA, he held urgent consultations with South African scientists, who advised that the country cannot take the decision made by the FDA lightly.
“Based on their advice, we have determined to voluntarily suspend our rollout until the causal relationship between the development of clots and the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is sufficiently interrogated,” he added.
South Africa has the highest number of COVID-19 cases on the continent with 1,559,960 infections and 53,423 deaths. Over 1.4 million people have recovered.
Mkhize said the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) will collate information from Johnson & Johnson, the FDA and other regulatory bodies to make a thorough assessment of the situation and advise South Africa as a regulatory body that has exercised its authoritative powers on the approval of the vaccine in their own right.
“I humbly call for calm and patience as we ensure that we continue to be properly guided by science in ensuring the safety of our people as we roll out the vaccine campaign.”
South Africa has so far acquired 30 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine as well as 30 million doses of the Pfizer vaccine, enough for this financial year.
Mkhize said the availability of Pfizer doses reassures them that in the extremely unlikely event that the Johnson & Johnson rollout is completely halted, they will not have any impediment to proceed with Phase Two of the rollout with Pfizer.
“We are confident that the rollout of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will resume, and so with 30 million doses of Johnson & Johnson and 30 million doses of Pfizer secured, we now have enough doses to exceed the 40 million we were targeting this year,” he said./aa