Andrew Kathindi

The Ministry of Health and Social Services (MoHSS)’s decision to acquire the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine could cost the country N$34 million per year for an unspecified number of years after it emerged the vaccine has to be continuously taken annually.

According to the MoHSS, Namibia is expected to receive 250,000 doses at a cost of US$2,500,000.00 (N$ 34,375,000.00) sometime in August. According to American media reports, the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Johnson & Johnson, Alex Gorsky, has stated that people who are inoculated with Johnson & Johnson may have to received annual doses for several years if they are to remain protected from contracting COVID-19. “The science around that vaccination is evolving and if it is such that annual vaccination may have to take place, I don’t think that will be the first of its kind. There are people who get vaccinated on a yearly basis. Your annual flu vaccine. There are other vaccines that are also repeated from time to time. If that’s the case and that is what is required, then that is how it will be implemented,” Health Ministry Executive Director, Ben Nangombe, told the Windhoek Observer. “If that is what is required, I don’t know if you have a choice. We are getting it but other implications relat
ed to that we can apply our mind and see how we can deal with the situation once we get to it.”

Johnson & Johnson vaccine had been suspended in South Africa due to a link between the vaccine and blood clots, although its roll out has now resumed. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States of America (USA), where the rollout of the vaccine was also resumed after a suspension, cautioned that “women younger than 50-year-old,especially, should be aware of the rare risk of blood clots with low platelets after vaccination, and that other COVID-19 vaccines are available where this risk has not been seen.”

Currently Namibia has around 197,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccines, being the Sinopharm, of which 100,000 doses were donated by the Chinese government, while 30,000 doses of Covishield (Oxford AstraZeneca) were donated by the Indian government. Namibia purchased 67,000 doses of AstraZeneca through the COVAX facility of which the first batch arrived on 16 April.

Thus far, 69 146 people have been vaccinated with the first dose of both Sinopharm and AstraZeneca, with 9 574 people having received a second dose of the vaccine. Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which is a single-dose vaccine, was approved earlier this year by the World health Organisation for emergency use.

Gorsky is quoted by CNBC as stating, “Unfortunately, as [the virus] spreads it can also mutate. Every time it mutates, it’s almost like another click of the dial so to speak where we can see another variant, another mutation that can have an impact on its ability to fend off antibodies or to have a different kind of response not only to a therapeutic but also to a vaccine.”

Health Minister Kalumbi Shangula earlier this year confirmed the local presence of a variant of COVID-19 that was discovered in South Africa.

The second variant is believed to be deadlier and may be the source of the high number of COVID-19 deaths. On Tuesday 1 June, Namibia recorded 24 COVID-19 related deaths, the highest number thus far reported in a single day. Nangombe, however, ruled out that the recent high number of cases reported means that a third wave is occurring.

“The scientists have not classified it as a third wave. They have considered that, but it is a pronounced increase in the number of cases, but at present we have not yet reached the stage where we would have overcome the peak of the second wave.”

“So, because we have not reached that, the scientists and epidemiologist remain cautious not to yet classify this as a third wave. But the situation is being monitored frequently.”