South Africa will resume using the Johnson & Johnson vaccine to inoculate healthcare workers next week, offering some relief to the country which has suffered a series of blows to its vaccination efforts in recent months, according to South African authorities.
The country suspended a Johnson & Johnson early access vaccination program last week after U.S. health officials suspended the vaccine amid concerns of rare blood clots surfaced in a handful of people who received it.
South Africa’s decision to move forward again was the second green light this week for Johnson & Johnson. On Tuesday, the European Union drug regulator also recommended resuming the launch of the company’s vaccine.
Now, a lot of eyes are on Washington, where a federal advisory committee is expected to meet on Friday to discuss whether to stop the hiatus in the United States.
The blood clots that led to the Johnson & Johnson suspensions have all been reported in the United States. In South Africa, officials confirmed Thursday that no cases of clots have been reported among the approximately 290,000 healthcare workers who have received the vaccine so far.
“The temporary suspension in South Africa was in line with the government’s commitment to ensure that global measures are taken regarding the vaccine launch,” Khumbudzo Ntshavheni, a government minister, told reporters.
Health experts have welcomed the resumption of the vaccination campaign in South Africa, which has recorded more coronavirus cases than any other country on the continent and has suffered severe setbacks in trying to fight the virus in recent months.
In February, health officials canceled plans to use the AstraZeneca vaccine after it proved ineffective against a variant of the virus now dominant in South Africa. The decision came a week after a million doses of the vaccine arrived in the country and amid a devastating second wave of virus cases.
Although the Johnson & Johnson vaccine has not yet been approved for general use in South Africa, it has been used as part of a research study offering early access to the vaccine to 1.2 million healthcare professionals in the country.
South African health officials are preparing to extend vaccinations to the general public starting in May. In a first step towards launching a national rollout, the country last week opened vaccine registration to people over the age of 60, who will be among the first to be vaccinated.
That plan hinges on tens of millions of doses from Pfizer-BioNTech, which requires two doses and will be used in major cities. The Johnson & Johnson single injection vaccine, which is easier to store and better for hard-to-reach populations, will be used in rural areas of the country.