Reitumetse Makwea
Digital Intern
2 minute read
17 Nov 2021
5:00 am

Booster shots not part of SA’s vaccine roll-out – yet

Reitumetse Makwea

The South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) has not yet approved mixing vaccine doses.

Dirco Minister Naledi Pandor said the department “noted” the travel restrictions, but alighted itself with the World Health Organization’s position 'not to engage in knee-jerk reactions', and has cautioned against travel restrictions. Photo for illustration: AFP/RajeshJantilal

As the debate around healthcare workers choosing their preferred booster doses continues, experts say it has never been the national department of health’s decision whether or not healthcare workers can “mix and match” vaccines, as South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (Sahpra) had not yet approved mixing vaccine doses.

According to Sahpra’s Yuveng Gounden, a regulatory decision on mix-match had not been made yet.

“The healthcare workers are accessing the second dose through the Sisonke phase 3b study. Boosters are not part of the roll-out yet,” Gounden said.

He said the requirement for mixing and matching vaccines would require safety and efficacy data from the applicant, as well as safety data to be presented by the applicant to the regulator.

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Public health lawyer Safura Abdool Karim said the reason why healthcare workers could only access the Johnson &
Johnson (J&J) booster through that trial was because of the trial protocol.

“J&J is not funding a trial to check whether their vaccines works with other types of boosters,” Abdool Karim said.

The College of Public Health Medicine (CMSA) wrote to the department of health over vaccine boosters for healthcare workers, which stated that the department had no plans of providing the Pfizer vaccine as an alternative.

“We would like to request the department to urgently roll-out a booster programme for healthcare workers,” the letter read.

The CMSA said people who received the J&J vaccine and were over 18 years old should receive a booster shot at least two months after receiving their primary vaccine dose.

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However Abdool Karim said J&J and Pfizer had not yet sought regulatory approval from mixing vaccines in SA and people could not pick a mixture of vaccines in a way that was Sahpra-approved.

The SA Medical Association also previously wrote a letter to the department to say there must be a choice of Covid booster vaccine.

But the department of health’s spokesperson, Foster Mohale, said people could not get boosters that were different from the vaccine they originally received due to “consistency purposes”.