South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) investigators in the Sisonke Protocol have called on unvaccinated health workers to register for and receive the Johnson and Johnson trial inoculation as it heads towards its final week.
In a statement issued on Friday, the SAMRC said to date, 366 101 healthcare workers have been vaccinated since the trial commenced in March. Of these, 73 478 had been vaccinated since 28 April when the trial recommenced after an earlier suspension by the South African Health Product Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).
"As of the end of Thursday, 6 May, we have vaccinated 366 101 health workers, 73 478 of whom since we recommenced vaccination. We thank our teams of researchers and Department of Health staff who are working tirelessly to bring vaccines to as many health workers as possible, including in some of the country's most remote regions such as northern KwaZulu-Natal and rural Eastern Cape," the SAMRC said.
The council urged all unvaccinated health personnel to come forward should they wish to receive a 'one-and-done' dose of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine through Sisonke.
"We wish to let health personnel know that we have doses and capacity to extend the Sisonke trial to health workers who are not directly patient-facing.
"The anticipated third wave has thankfully been slower to arrive than expected, and has provided a window of opportunity in which to vaccinate health workers and personnel. We urge all health workers and personnel, who have not yet been vaccinated, to take up this offer before a resurgence of cases this winter to protect themselves and our health systems," said the SAMRC.
The Johnson and Johnson vaccine provides 80% protection against severe COVID-19 illness and death, based on local data.
"We understand many people may be concerned about the safety of the vaccine following the pause," said the SAMRC, adding that severe side-effects are exceedingly rare, although severe COVID-19 is not.
"Based on all data from South Africa and the United States, we know that severe side-effects like severe allergy (anaphylaxis) or the rare clotting condition called VITT (Vaccine-induced Immune Thrombotic Thrombocytopenia) affect between one and four people per million people vaccinated, whereas severe COVID-19 is likely to kill 35 000 people per million cases, should we experience another surge in infections," said the council.