THE decision by the Zimbabwen government to reject the Johnson & Johnson vaccine on the grounds of safety and storage issues might not be the in the best interests of citizens and lacks the scientific evidence to back the reasons up, a leading local Immunologist has said.
By Michael Gwarisa
This comes after revelations that the technology that was used to develop the Sputnik V vaccine that was recently donated by Russia to Zimbabwe is the same as the one that was used to develop the Johnson & Johnson Vaccines and they both belong to the same vaccines platform of Viral Vector Vaccines.
Both the Sputnik V and Johnson & Johnson were developed using a genetic material that was then joined together with the genetic material of a common cold virus or a family of viruses called adenoviruses. The Russians when they developed the Suptnik V used a virus called adenovirus 26 which is also what Johnson & Johnson used.
Speaking on the sidelines of the launch of the Health Communicators Forum in Harare, Dr Tinashe Gede said the Johnson & Johnson vaccines were actually cheaper and easy to administer since they are single dose vaccines and was made for resource limited settings which do not require extreme refrigeration or any specialized cold chain systems.
A week ago we were supposed to receive our allocation of the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine through the COVAX program, however, it was decided that we couldn’t receive it because they deemed it unsafe and not sufficiently tested and they also said we can’t store it.
“The reasons are standing on very thin legs because the storage of the Johnson & Johnson is exactly the same as the Chinese vaccines. The safety of the Johnson & Johnson in principle is the same as the Sputnik V vaccine. We are currently rolling our a predominately inactivated vaccine and we are now introducing a second vaccine construct called the viral vector vaccines possibly from next week and that has to be interrogated in terms of how much safety signal will there be which patients need to take note of,” said Dr Gede
He added that in terms of storage and shelf life, the Johnson & Johnson vaccines can last up to 24 months at 2 to 8 degrees but for other vaccines they actually need lower temperatures.
“There is a difference between mechanically storing the vaccines and deploying in the field. Johnson & Johnson was adapted for a resource constrained setting, it does not require extreme refrigeration at any point. That is why the World Health Organisation (WHO) said it is the most pragmatic vaccine for the developed world.
“The other thing is that Johnson & Johnson is one dose vaccine. If you think about it. If you want to vaccinate people in Murambida, the logistics of sending a nurse with a cold chain there and then returning again after a month to administer second dosses involves a lot of money. You would rather go there once and be done with it. That’s what makes Johnson & Johnson attractive.”
He also said including the Johnson & Johnson in the national vaccination drive would stretch Zimbabwe’s vaccine capacity threefold hence pushing them close to attaining herd immunity earlier since it does not gobble huge resources as compared to double dose vaccines.
Meanwhile, Zimbabwe is currently experiencing shortages of the first dose for the Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccines that were donated and procured from the Republic of China. Russia recently donated 25 000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine.