African scientists reject CDC recommendation for Johnson & Johnson vaccine

Johannesburg - African scientists and health advocates are deeply disappointed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's statement about Johnson & Johnson's COVID-19 vaccine.

The CDC recommended the Moderna and Pfizer vaccines before last week's J&J, out of concern the J&J vaccine could, in rare cases, cause blood clots or thrombosis.

The J&J vaccine is one of the most widely used in Africa because it is a single dose that does not require very cold storage. The South African Department of Health has provided assurances to the public that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is safe.

In a statement, the CDC said it had expressed a "clinical preference" for a vaccine other than J&J.

"This updated CDC advisory follows similar recommendations from other countries, including Canada and the UK," the CDC said. However, the CDC says that "any vaccine is better than no vaccine".

However, health officials in Africa say the CDC's recommendations are "irreparably" jeopardizing their vaccination efforts. They said the CDC-J&J vaccine's association with rare but potentially fatal side effects would result in widespread vaccine rejection across continents where most other vaccines are not available.

Less than 6% of people in Africa have been vaccinated and the World Health Organization describes Africa as "one of the least affected areas in the world".

"I've been inundated with calls from people saying, 'You poisoned us' and 'We don't want to take this' and 'We're on a vaccine. we don't have to get J&J, we just need to get Pfizer,” said Barry Jacobson, president of the South African Thrombosis Society. “By issuing this statement, the CDC is scaring people from receiving J&J boosters, which they shouldn't.

South Africa's leading epidemiologist Salim Abdul Karim said the J&J vaccine was safe.

"If you only look at thrombosis from COVID-19 cases, for example, it's much higher than what we see from the vaccine," said Karim, an epidemiologist at KwaZulu-Natal University of South Africa who previously advised South Africa's government about COVID-19. . "So there's no doubt that despite these side effects, this vaccine has a net benefit."

The CDC's recommendations follow the emergence of a rare and sometimes fatal blood clotting problem called thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome, or TTS, which specifically affects the brain in people who receive the J&J vaccine.

"We've seen thrombosis with all vaccines," Jacobson said. “The fact is, however, that the risk of thrombosis is enormous when a person has COVID. There is a much higher risk of death from thrombosis from COVID-19 than from vaccination and thrombosis, where the risk is minimal compared to any other group.

Jacobson was on the safety committee overseeing one of the world's largest vaccine studies when half a million health workers in South Africa received the J&J vaccine earlier this year.

The study, called Sisonke, was postponed in April when the CDC stopped using the vaccine after six cases of TTS in the United States. After analyzing more data, the CDC gave the vaccine the green light, saying the benefits came with predominant risks. .

Why the CDC is now "surprisingly" linking the J&J vaccine to this type of thrombosis again, says Jacobson, is not for him.

"The fact that the CDC came out and said this demonstrates not knowing what we had before us in Africa, where there are cold chain storage problems and the fact that patients can't get more than one vaccine," Jacobson said. . "If you look at the actual frequency, it's one in 500,000 to one in a million. You have a better chance of being struck by lightning."

By Darren Taylor

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