South Africa will resume use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to vaccinate healthcare workers next week, which will bring some relief to the country, which has suffered a number of blows in its vaccination efforts over the past few months, according to the South African authorities .
The country suspended an early access vaccination program for Johnson & Johnson last week after US health officials suspended the vaccine over concerns about rare blood clots that have occurred in a handful of people who received it.
South Africa’s decision to move forward was the second green light this week for Johnson & Johnson. On Tuesday, the European Union Medicines Agency also recommended resuming the company’s vaccine rollout.
Now many eyes are on Washington, where a federal advisory council is due to meet on Friday to discuss whether to lift the hiatus in the United States.
The blood clots that resulted in the Johnson & Johnson suspensions were all reported in the United States. In South Africa, officials confirmed Thursday that no cases of blood clots were reported among the roughly 290,000 healthcare workers who have received the vaccine to date.
“The temporary suspension in South Africa was in line with the government’s commitment to ensure that comprehensive measures are taken to introduce vaccines,” Cabinet Minister Khumbudzo Ntshavheni told reporters on Thursday.
Health experts welcomed the resumption of the vaccination campaign in South Africa, which has seen more coronavirus cases than any other country on the continent and which has suffered serious setbacks in its attempt to fight the virus in recent months.
In February, health officials abandoned plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine after it was found to be ineffective against a variant of the virus prevalent in South Africa. The decision was made a week after a million doses of the vaccine hit the country and were in a devastating second wave of virus cases.
Although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been approved for general use in South Africa, it was used as part of a research study giving early access to the vaccine to the country’s 1.2 million healthcare workers.
South African health officials are preparing to expand vaccinations to the general public from May. As a first step towards a national rollout, the country opened its vaccine registration last week to people over 60, who will be among the first to be vaccinated.
That plan depends on tens of millions of doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine, which requires two doses and is used in large cities. Johnson & Johnson’s single-shot vaccine, which is easier to store and better suited to hard-to-reach populations, is used in rural areas of the country.