WHO Approves Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 Vaccine for Use

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Leaders have committed to making COVID-19 vaccines available to all people and recently increased funding for the UN-led COVAX initiative.The World Health Organisation has given clearance to the vaccine developed by Janssen (Johnson & Johnson), for emergency use in all countries and for the international UN-partnered effort to roll-out vaccines equitably across the world, COVAX.

The vaccine from Janssen is the first to be listed by the WHO as a single dose shot, which should facilitate vaccination logistics in all countries, the agency said. This brings the number of approved vaccines to three, following the approval of the Pfizer and AstraZeneca vaccine.

The Jansen COVID-19 vaccine is a viral vector vaccine that works by introducing a genetically manufactured virus also referred to as a vector into the body. The vector does not cause COVID-19 but produces coronavirus spike proteins.  The cell in the body displays the spike protein on its surface which causes the immune system to recognise it does not belong in the body. This prompts the immune system to start producing antibodies to fight off the infection. Seven days after vaccination, the body is expected to have learnt how to fight off future COVID-19 viruses.

Data from clinical trials of the vaccine showed that the vaccine was 66.3 per cent effective in preventing COVID-19 infections. The vaccine also proved to be effective in preventing severe illness and also death caused by COVID-19.

The manufacturers of the vaccine recommend that it be given to people aged 18 and above.  Some of the side effects associated with the vaccine include; pain, soreness at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and even nausea.

Dr Tedros Ghebreyesus, the WHO director-general says while the new listing adds more option for controlling the disease, he says equity in distribution is needed.

“Every new, safe and effective tool against COVID-19 is another step closer to controlling the pandemic. But the hope offered by these tools will not materialize unless they are made available to all people in all countries. I urge governments and companies to live up to their commitments and to use all solutions at their disposal to ramp up production so that these tools become truly global public goods, available and affordable to all, and a shared solution to the global crisis,” he said.

Recommendations for use of the vaccine will be formulated next week according to the WHO. The COVAX facility has ordered 500 million doses of the vaccine. Through the African Union, Uganda has been allocated four million doses of the Jansen vaccine. However, Uganda will need to pay for these vaccines. In the U.S on average each dose of the vaccine costs USD 10 (36,700 Shillings.

The vaccine can be kept for up two years at -20 degrees but can survive for three months at 2-8 degrees celsius. Uganda is using the AstraZeneca vaccine that can be kept at a manageable temperature of between 2-8 degrees Celsius.

The Minister of Health, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng said if the country could afford the Jansen vaccine, there are enough cold storage equipment to use the vaccines.

“We have cold chain storage equipment that we can use to store the Johnson and Johnson Vaccine. We used the Ebola vaccines in 2019 and they need they are stored under the same conditions. So we can keep these vaccines,” she said.

Meanwhile, the UN World Health Organization (WHO) said on Friday that it was aware of blood clot concerns linked to “a specific batch” of AstraZeneca/Oxford COVID-19 vaccine, but maintained that to date, no-one has died from any coronavirus vaccine. The development comes after several European countries suspended the rollout of the jab as a precaution.

“As of 9 March, there have been over 268 million doses of vaccine delivered since the start of the pandemic, and based on data reported – that’s data reported to WHO by national governments – no causes of death have been found or been caused by COVID-19 vaccines to date”, said spokesperson Dr Margaret Harris.

Speaking via videoconference in Geneva, Dr Harris noted that the WHO’s independent expert global advisory board, SAGE, was currently assessing reports on the AstraZeneca vaccine and that those findings would be made public as soon as they were available.

Blood clotting episodes are common in people “so it’s not clear if this was something that was going to happen”, or whether the vaccine was responsible, the WHO spokesperson explained. “A causal relationship ….has not been shown”, she said, while also underscoring that the European Union medical agencies’ risk assessment committee, Pharmacovigilance, had also decided that the vaccine’s benefits “continue to outweigh the risks”.

The panel had taken the position that the jab should continue to be administered, while an investigation of cases of these thrombo-embolic events is ongoing”, Dr Harris continued. Countries that have reportedly paused their inoculation campaigns include Austria, Denmark, Estonia, Lithuania Norway, Iceland and Thailand.

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