Dr Hurley discusses COVID-19 vaccine and Johnson & Johnson 1st SA company to apply for vaccine registration

Dr Hurley discusses COVID-19 vaccine and Johnson & Johnson 1st SA company to apply for vaccine registration
"Speaking to Dr Regina Hurley, of the Mediclinic Newcastle COVID-19 task team, we learn more about when South Africans can realistically expect access to this revolutionary vaccine."

The competition between companies within the medical sector notes arguably some of the fiercest competition throughout the world but simultaneously, some of the greatest medical advancements ever seen. In light of this forward progression, when looking at the current race to obtain a COVID-19 vaccine, South Africa is now in the mix on a larger scale than you might currently believe.

On an international level, Pfizer Inc and BioNTech announced earlier this month that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorised the emergency use of the MRNA Vaccine, BNT 162b2, against the coronavirus in people ages 16 years and older.

With Pfizer looking at helping millions of people through their vaccine, Albert Bourla, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Pfizer, stated, “As a US company, today’s news brings great pride and tremendous joy that Pfizer has risen to the challenge to develop a vaccine that has the potential to help bring an end to this devastating pandemic. We have worked tirelessly to make the impossible possible, steadfast in our belief that science will win.”

However, when looking at SA’s most recent announcement, South Africa Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) said Pharmaceutical group Johnson & Johnson is the first company to apply to register a Covid-19 vaccine in South Africa.

According to SAHPRA Chief Executive, Boitumelo Semete, the application was received on 10 December 2020, and the regulator has now begun an official review process.

Semete further said it was essential to highlight the regulator would focus on the safety, quality and efficacy of the vaccine. Additionally, she claimed the regulator has held several pre-submission discussions with pharmaceutical companies, in which SAHPRA advised the companies about the required data for a successful application.

Speaking to Dr Regina Hurley, the chair of the Mediclinic Newcastle COVID-19 task team, we learn more about when South Africans can realistically expect access to this revolutionary vaccine. This, as well as its importance and how much faith the doctor has in the current COVID-19 vaccine candidate. 

Firstly, according to SAHPRA, as of 2 December 2020, 58 COVID-19 vaccines candidates were in clinical research. With millions of people trying to will the vaccine rollouts into existence within the next several weeks—realistically, Dr Hurley points out, we can expect a vaccine mid-2021.

As a medical professional with comprehensive knowledge on the subject, the doctor affirms she has a great deal of faith in the upcoming vaccine. “Rapid, extensive tests have been performed on many patients to evaluate the vaccines.”

Through these extensive tests, she clarifies, most side effects and complications should be exposed. However, “Obviously, any long-term effects may not be exposed yet. But, for high-risk people, the vaccine will be beneficial.” Moreover, the vaccine will be able to suppress the severe backlash on the body, caused by COVID-19. “Individuals who get the vaccine will not progress to life-threatening complications of COVID-19.” Instead, if exposed to the virus after being vaccinated, patients will experience mild symptoms. Furthermore, the vaccine is expected to reduce the death rate associated with COVID-19. 

With the many benefits mentioned above in mind, Dr Hurley says this will, in turn, reduce the burden on the health care sector—which will significantly assist the country in numerous ways.

And when focussing specifically on the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the doctor explains it uses a modified version of the virus to produce proteins in the body in order to prime the immune system. Whereas other vaccines make use of synthetic RNA. She continues by adding it is good that the vaccine only requires one dose, as this means, most patients will likely only receive one shot—translating to less medical care infrastructure being required. The vaccine “needs regular refrigeration, but other vaccines require extremely low temperatures for storage, which will be impossible in South Africa,” states Dr Hurley. 

It is worthy of noting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine will only cost R150 per dose, while the other vaccines will be more costly.

While Johnson & Johnson is the first company to apply for a vaccine in the country, the doctor states that she understands various other companies have now applied as well. “However, as a country, Johnson and Johnson seems to be the best option, based on the cost, also on the efficacy with one shot and not two, and ease of storage and shelf life of the vaccine.”

As the world now waits with bated breath for the vaccine to hit the public, what are your thoughts? Will you get vaccinated once available? 

Share your opinions with us in the comment section below.

Author: Quinton Boucher and Calvin Swemmer

Edited: Calvin Swemmer


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