South Africa has started to vaccinate healthcare personnel with the Janssen vaccine developed in the Netherlands. It is striking that the coronav vaccine has not yet been approved.
South Africa has found a way around it. Anyone who is now pricked with the Janssen vaccine gets it under the guise of research. It is a so-called implementation study that looks at how the use of the vaccine works in practice and also provides South Africa with more information on how the virus mutation works.
Approval for a study is much quicker, and South Africa has chosen that route so that they can already vaccinate.
In the country, the Janssen vaccine was already tested at the last clinical stage. Now they‘re expanding that investigation. The first vaccines go to large hospitals, spread across the country.
Yesterday 80,000 doses of the vaccine arrived. In the coming period, in the name of research, that will be half a million dollars. It is the only vaccine of which there are now data that indicate protection against severe coronavirus cases with South African coronavirus amutation. That’s why the vaccine is now being deployed.
For South Africa, rolling out the study is a way to start vaccination now. It turned out that the Astrazeneca vaccine, which South Africa initially intended to use, is not working well against mild and moderate symptoms of the South African variant. They don‘t know whether it works against serious corona complaints in the mutation, but it was enough for the government to refrigerate the Astrazeneca vaccines.
About the action of the Janssen vaccine against the South African variant is already known. Its effectiveness is 57 percent, but works better against severe cases. “The Janssen vaccine protects 85 percent against severe corona. It doesn’t work well against mild complaints,” explains Glenda Gray, one of the South African scientists who lead the vaccine medicine in the country. “So it can at least cause the number of deaths and hospitalizations to decrease dramatically.”
Where one South African physician on social media writes that the government deserves praise for switching from vaccine so quickly, it causes distrust among other healthcare workers.
“ We don‘t want to be guinea pigs,” says Lerato Mthunzi, of a nursing union with some 20,000 members. She says that many of her members hesitate about the vaccine, because it has not yet been officially approved. But above all, they have lost faith in the government.
“ They did not protect us well,” says Mthunzi. “A lot of money has been stolen by corrupt politicians who should have gone to protective clothing and mouthcaps for us. Why should we believe the government that risked our lives during this pandemic?”
According to the government, nearly 320,000 healthcare workers have registered online to receive a vaccination. That’s about 25 percent of the total. Olivia Pharo, who runs a small clinic in Atlantis just outside Cape Town, also registered. Nevertheless, she had doubts at first. “And that while I‘ve had corona myself and treated many patients. But it all went so messy that they changed vaccines at the end. We don’t feel like we have all the information.”
‘Too late and too little transparent’
The president is also given an injection during the first vaccination round, as part of the campaign he has to run to regain confidence. A poll in January showed that only 51 percent of South Africans were willing to get an injection, 17 percent less than in October last year. Another poll got better results with 67 percent willingness.
Sue Goldstein, an expert in behavior and health in South Africa, says there is a lot of work to do to educate the population. “South Africans have many questions in government action. For example, on arrival it appeared that AstraZeneca vaccines were only shelf life until April. It gives the feeling that the government does not control everything properly.”
In addition, the government is accused of having started purchasing vaccines too late, and of being too little transparent about when which vaccine will arrive. For example, it was only announced a few hours ago that the first shot would be taken today.
“ The government has not properly communicated this pandemic. In other countries you can see that politicians hold a weekly or daily press conference where people are allowed to ask questions, here we have only seen a television speech every few weeks from the president. There is a deep distrust of people who have felt forgotten for years,” says Goldstein. Nevertheless, she thinks that the mistrust inSouth Africa will become less when vaccination starts.
South Africa has ordered another nine million doses of the Janssen vaccine following these studies. Twenty million vaccines from Pfizer are also arriving. The Astrazeneca vaccines they do not want to use have been offered to the African Union, which is running a vaccination programme on the continent.