South Africa hopes to get some doses of Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Covid-19 vaccine before the end of this week, says Department of Health deputy director-general Anban Pillay.
In an interview with the SABC, Pillay said the J&J vaccine has shown in trials to be highly effective in preventing hospitalisation and death, and said it was an advantage that it was a one-shot vaccine that could be stored at fridge temperatures.
However, he did not indicate how many doses of the vaccine country is likely to receive, while the vaccine has not yet received official authorisation from regulator Sahpra.
President Cyril Ramaphosa previously said that South Africa had secured nine million J&J doses that were due to start arriving in the second quarter of 2021.
On Sunday (7 February), the Department of Health said that it would put the distribution of a million Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccines on hold, citing concerns around its efficacy.
Professor of Vaccinology at Wits University, Shabir Madhi, said that a vaccine trial done by his team found that there is no proof of the vaccine’s full efficacy against the local variant of Covid-19.
Madhi said that up until the end of October 2020, the vaccine showed ‘potential’ and individuals who took a single dose were 75% less likely to be infected.
However, the emergence of the 501.V2 variant in South Africa means that the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine is not as effective.
“When we analysed individuals in terms of how well the vaccine worked against the variant, there was very little difference between the vaccine group and placebo group,” Madhi said.
“However Covid vaccines really remain the only sustainable option of reducing risk of severe disease and death.”
Professor Salim Abdool Karim, one of South Africa’s leading Covid-19 experts, said there is hope that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will show a smaller decline in efficacy against the variant, making it a plausible choice for rollout.