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State urges citizens to take jabs despite J&J vaccine-linked death

Person dies from rare Guillian-Barre syndrome

Zoe Mahopo Journalist
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine being administered to health workers at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg.
The Johnson & Johnson vaccine being administered to health workers at the Charlotte Maxeke Hospital in Johannesburg.
Image: Thulani Mbele

The national health department has advised people to continue taking Covid-19 vaccines despite the country’s first reported death linked to a vaccine. 

The SA Health Product Regulatory Authority (Saphra) announced on Thursday that there has been one death linked to the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

The vaccine was approved for rollout on March 31 last year. According to Saphra, the person died from a rare condition called Guillian-Barre Syndrome (GBS), which was linked to the jab.

Department spokesperson Doctor Tshwale said this does not mean the vaccine was defective.

“The vaccine is still safe considering the fact that out of 37m people that have taken the vaccine it is the only incident where we have seen a death,” Tshwale said.

He said about 6,000 cases of suspected injuries related to Covid-19 vaccines have been reported and investigations were still ongoing.

The death was picked up through an investigation by the National Immunisation Safety Community (NISEC) tasked with monitoring whether injuries are related to immunisation.

Tshwale said of the 6,000 that are being probed, the majority (89%) involved patients with mild symptoms.

According to the regulator, GBS is a rare condition that can be triggered by medications and vaccines as well as exposure to diseases like Sars-Cov 2. Symptoms include muscle aches or tiredness while severe signs like paralysis can also occur.

Tshwale said people should report to a health facility if they experience complications, adding that health officials will prescribe intervention while referring their case for further investigation.

He said the family of the person who died would be automatically eligible to benefit from the Covid-19 injury compensation scheme, but said the amount could not be disclosed.   

“The family is contacted and there is a way in which the matter will be settled,” Tshwale said.

Saphra said the outcome of the investigations on Covid-19 vaccines would be announced once concluded. Saphra said such investigations had previously been done elsewhere, including in 2021 when the European Medicines Agency concluded that there was a possible link between GBS and the Janssen vaccine.

It said more than 9m Janssen vaccines had been administered in SA so far.


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