South Africa, which entered the third wave of the Covid-19 epidemic and was late in the vaccination campaign, announced on Saturday, 12 that it will have to suspend two million vaccines from the American company Johnson & Johnson (J&J), on suspicion of contamination.
The US authorities announced the day before that “several batches” of the vaccine, that is, several million doses, manufactured in Baltimore, USA, and whose production had to be stopped several weeks ago, will have to be withdrawn.
“We have two sealed packages representing two million doses that are currently being held at Gekiberha (formerly Elizabeth Port, South) depot,” South African Health Minister Mamamoloko Kobaye Ngoban told reporters during a hospital visit.
The Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) will have to judge the possibility of its withdrawal.
In March, tests at the US plant revealed that the products that make up the AstraZeneca vaccine, manufactured on the same site, were mistakenly mixed with J&J vaccines, contaminating millions of doses and rendering them unusable. Further batch analysis is still required.
“We cannot deny that this is a setback in our vaccination programme,” added the minister who replaced Zweili Mkhize, who was sacked after corruption allegations.
Kubayi-Ngubane said 300,000 new doses of J&J are scheduled to be delivered on Tuesday.
South Africa has a stockpile of 31 million doses of a single dose of the J&J vaccine to immunize its population of 59 million.
The only vaccine purchased by the government and approved by South African health authorities is one made by Pfizer.
The country has managed to obtain 30 million doses, but this one-shot vaccine needs to be stored at very low temperatures.
South Africa, where 58,000 people have died from the coronavirus, has vaccinated just over 1% of its population.