Friday, August 12 2022

ELANDSDOORN, South Africa (AP) — After testing thousands of people for the coronavirus, South African nurse Asnath Masango says she can’t wait to get vaccinated.

“So many people, I test them and within days they are dead,” Masango said. “I want to be protected.”

CJ Umunnakwe, a virologist who runs a lab that has performed more than 40,000 virus tests, says he “believes wholeheartedly in vaccinations. Vaccines save lives. He plans to speak to those who might be skeptical.

Healthcare workers at Ndlovu Care Group in rural north-east South Africa are eagerly awaiting the first Johnson & Johnson vaccines, which will be distributed to medical staff starting this week.

This is despite the fact that the Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine – unlike the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Oxford-AstraZeneca two-shot vaccines – has not been approved for general use anywhere in the world.

Regardless, say many South African health workers who are excited to receive the J&J vaccine, which comes amid a huge shift in the government’s vaccination strategy.

South Africa, with nearly 1.5 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, including over 47,000 deaths, has recorded 41% of reported cases in Africa.

Last week, South Africa controversially decided to drop the AstraZeneca vaccine – which had already been procured, delivered and approved in the country – from the first phase in which 1.25 million healthcare workers health will be vaccinated.

The last-minute decision was made after a small test showed the AstraZeneca vaccine offered minimal protection against mild to moderate cases of the dominant variant in South Africa. Although preliminary and not peer-reviewed, the results have raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the AstraZeneca vaccine specifically in South Africa, even though the vaccine has been approved in more than 50 other countries around the world.

Health officials decided to switch to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which tests show is safe and effective against the variant here. A single-shot vaccine is also easier to implement for many countries.

“The change has emboldened skeptics, who say vaccines have problems,” Umunnakwe said of those who alleged big pharma is using Africans as guinea pigs.

“I tell people that the change shows that decisions are made transparently, that they were driven by science,” he said. “It’s proof that we put the public first.”

South Africa has purchased 9 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 80,000 will be delivered this week to kick off the inoculation campaign, the president said. The South African regulator has approved the J&J shot for testing purposes. Until this vaccine receives full approval, it will be administered in an “implemented study,” officials said.

At Ndlovu Care Group, in the small town of Elandsdoorn in Limpopo province, 200 kilometers (124 miles) north of Johannesburg, medical workers have seen firsthand the devastation caused by the virus. When COVID-19 hit, the center quickly stepped up its lab to perform PCR testing.

The protective gear that covers Masango cannot hide her empathy as she greets people who come for a COVID-19 test.

“I’m so good at it, you won’t even feel it!” she said to a visitor.

Masango, 56, said she had tested more people than she could count.

“What depresses me the most is when I have to tell someone they are HIV positive,” she said. “They are so scared… The grandparents are dying. Breadwinners die. How will their children get food?

The prospect of being vaccinated excites him.

“Yo! she said, her eyes widening. “I want this vaccine!”

The Ndlovu Care Group has carried out more than 40,000 tests in the rural community, including workers from large mines and commercial farms. More than 20,000 of these tests took place in January alone, when South Africa was hit by a dramatic resurgence of the disease, driven by the most contagious variant that is now dominant.

Ndlovu Lab can perform the PCR virus tests and get the results within hours. During the January resurgence, it was averaging about 1,600 tests a day.

“We were busy, very busy,” said Umunnakwe, a 35-year-old virologist who came to the center to study HIV and is now also studying coronavirus. He is carefully monitoring the genomic sequencing in South Africa that identified the new variant.

“By doing sequencing, we not only see what is in the virus today, we can detect what might happen in the future,” Umunnakwe said, adding that he hoped Ndlovu would get the equipment. to do sequencing, rare for a rural environment. Health center.

Most South Africans look forward to getting vaccinated. A whopping 67% of adults said they would definitely or probably take a vaccine, according to a survey by the University of Johannesburg and the Human Sciences Research Council.

Dr Rebone Maboa, who is leading a study of the J&J vaccine at the Ndlovu centre, was delighted to hear that it will be used in South Africa.

“I am really delighted! said Maboa. “I think it’s actually a better vaccine for us here in South Africa, looking at our variant.”

The 42-year-old doctor said 602 people from the community were taking part in the test and half had been injected with the J&J vaccine in November. She also said her recent recovery from COVID-19 made her a stronger advocate for vaccination.

“Lack of knowledge makes people much, much more anxious,” Maboa said. “Those who receive the vaccine will be role models, vaccine ambassadors who will encourage others.”


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