South Africa’s Covid-19 vaccination programme could be dealt a big blow as two million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will likely be destroyed.
The vaccines have been waiting in limbo at an Aspen distribution plant in Gqeberha (Port Elizabeth) after it was discovered that a batch of the J&J vaccines manufactured at the Emergent BioSolutions plant in Baltimore had been contaminated.
A ruling from the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) on Friday declared that a months-long probe into operations at the factory found safety protocols were not strictly adhered to.
It declared around 60 million doses of the vaccine unuseable because of possible contamination.
In a statement the health department initially said that the vaccines would undergo further assessment by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) to determine if they were suitable for use in South Africa.
“There is now a real possibility that they may not be, however this is for the regulator to rule on,” it said.
It now appears all but certain that these doses will not be used, after a report from EWN that acting health minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane yesterday confirmed that the vaccines in storage were impacted by this ruling.
“Two million doses that are affected [are] currently in a warehouse in Gqeberha,” Kubayi-Ngubane stated during a visit to the Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital on Saturday.
Government is relying on the J&J vaccine to meet its target of inoculating two-thirds of the 60 million population by early next year. It has ordered more than 31 million units of the single-dose shot.
To date, 479,768 South Africans have received this vaccine, which was the first to be used in the country as part of the Sisonke programme to vaccinate health and frontline workers.
Due to the contamination concerns, shipments and rollout of the vaccine have slowed down significantly, with Pfizer-BioNTech shots administered in South Africa now more than double that of the J&J shot.
Government has been slammed for the overall slow pace of the vaccine rollout, after it had slacked in approaching vaccine producers last year.
In mid-March, Media Hack Collective’s vaccination calculator showed that, based on the 5,910 average vaccinations per day at the time, it would take more than 18 years to administer the vaccine to 67% of the population.
Fortunately, with the arrival of multiple shipments of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine in recent weeks, the average had increased to 14,956 as of Saturday.
The health department’s latest vaccination stats revealed that daily vaccines administered increased by 430,868 from Saturday 5 June to Saturday 12 June, a daily average of around 61,550.
At this rate, it will still take almost two years to vaccinate two thirds of the population.