Calls for calm amid another Covid-19 vaccine related death in SA

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A third person has died after receiving the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa. But an immunisation expert says that it is highly unlikely that SA will record a higher number of deaths from the vaccine than other countries worldwide

On Friday, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority(SAHPRA) reported a South African citizen experienced Guillain-Barre Syndrome(GBS) after receiving a Covid-19 jab and died. GBS is a very rare but potentially severe neurological adverse event that is associated with the administration of various vaccines and other medicines. It can also be triggered by some bacterial or viral infections.

According to SAHPRA, regulatory authorities have concluded that the Johnson & Johnson Covid-19 vaccine may increase the risk of GBS, hence it is listed as a rare adverse event in the professional information(PI) for Covid-19 Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Head of the South African Vaccination and Immunisation Centre at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences, Professor Hannelie Meyer believes that with extremely rare severe events at 1-10 in a million vaccinated people and 13.6 billion doses administered globally, further deaths in South Africa are unlikely.

Know your health 

But Meyer says that it is important for people to know their own health and to ensure they are not suffering from any health condition that is untreated, whether a chronic condition or not. 

“If you experience anything that is of concern, consult with a healthcare professional. But the rule with any vaccination is that if you have a fever, then you should defer vaccination until the fever has been resolved,” explains Meyer.

She says that no vaccine or medicine will be registered or authorised for use if it is unsafe and if it is known to cause death. But extremely rare events which appear amongst 1-10 in a million vaccinated people, only show up until millions of people have received the vaccine.

“Examples of such events include Guillain-Barre Syndrome, rare blood clots and heart inflammation. These events are usually treatable when diagnosed early. Many people are concerned about allergic reactions such as anaphylaxis, which is a very severe but very rare hypersensitivity reaction to any vaccine or medicine, and can result in death in extreme cases if not diagnosed and managed appropriately,” says Meyer.

According to her, all vaccination sites must therefore have an emergency kit available on site, to be able to manage an anaphylactic reaction, should it be necessary. As these reactions usually occur a few minutes after vaccination, which is why people have to wait at the vaccination site for 15 minutes after receiving their vaccine. If treated immediately, the reaction will resolve with no long-term effects.

Still the only protection against the virus

Meyer warns that vaccines remain the only protection against the novel coronavirus as it remains a dangerous contagious disease, and responsible for more than 6.9 million deaths globally. 

“On the contrary, the Covid-19 vaccines, including the ones we are using in South Africa, are safe to use and reduce your risk of severe disease, hospitalisation or death. Research is ongoing about the duration of protection provided by the Covid-19 vaccines, but booster doses are currently recommended for all people from the age of 18 years,” says Meyer.

SAHPRA says that investigations and causality assessments of all reported severe adverse events following immunisation(AEFI) with all Covid-19 vaccines are ongoing. 

“The outcomes of these investigations and causality assessments will be shared with the public as soon as they are completed. SAHPRA urges the public to report any suspected adverse events following the use of all medicines and vaccines. ,” says SAHPRA in a media statement. – Health-e News.

Author

  • Ndivhuwo Mukwevho

    Ndivhuwo Mukwevho is citizen journalist who is based in the Vhembe District of Limpopo province. He joined OurHealth in 2015 and his interests lie in investigative journalism and reporting the untold stories of disadvantaged rural communities. Ndivhuwo holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in Media Studies from the University of Venda and he is currently a registered student with UNISA.

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