South Africa’s vaccine roll-out has not been the easiest, but positive news may soon turn the tide. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine will arrive in South Africa by the end of the week, which is earlier than scheduled.

This comes after the vaccine roll-out was halted on Sunday, February 7 when it was revealed the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine will expire in April and has a low efficacy rate against the 501Y.V2 variant, which is dominant in the country.

Speaking to SABC News on Monday [February 8], Deputy Director from the Department of Health Anban Pillay said that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine arrival has been expedited from the beginning of the second quarter to February after urgent engagements with the company following the AstraZeneca setback.

“J&J had already committed to providing us with vaccines but they were going to provide most of them in quarter two. When it became clearer that the J&J vaccine was the most effective option we had in front of us, we engaged with them again and they were able to put together doses that will allow us start the vaccination with our healthcare workers in the first phase,” he said. “We will probably be expecting delivery of the vaccines by the end of the week.”

There is no word yet on how many doses can be expected in the first delivery.

In late January, Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose vaccine candidate was found to be 57% effective in South African participants. The level of protection against moderate to severe COVID-19 infection was 72% in the United States, and 66% in Latin America, 28 days post-vaccination.

The vaccine candidate was 85% effective in preventing severe disease across all regions studied, 28 days after vaccination in all adults 18 years and older. Efficacy against severe disease increased over time with no cases in vaccinated participants reported after day 49.

It also demonstrated complete protection against COVID-related hospitalisation and death, 28 days post-vaccination.

Pillay seems optimistic that this vaccine will be successful in South Africa.

“It was used in South Africa with 100’s of thousands of people recruited during the trial and so at this time we think that it will be a good vaccine for South Africa, with it additionally being suitable for the country’s fridge storage capacity,” he said.

Pillay also said that the R120-million spent on procuring the AstraZeneca vaccine may not be entirely lost. Government will continue to negotiate with the company to determine whether the vaccine may still be used.

“We need to understand whether this vaccine can be used in South Africa and if so, which group would it best suit. In Europe, they are using the AstraZeneca vaccine but in the lower age groups and not in the 0ver 60 groups. We may need to find a group of individuals that would be appropriate to use this vaccine if we are going to be using it at all.”

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