Reports of people dying from the Covid-19 vaccine is often cited as a reason for vaccine hesitancy in South Africa.
A recent study by the Human Sciences Research Council and the University of Johannesburg found that 25% of people are concerned about its side effects.
Reports of 29 deaths being linked to the Covid-19 vaccine has done little to challenge these perceptions.
However, the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA) - which is mandated to oversee the safety of all medicines registered in the country - has confirmed, based on reports from an interdisciplinary team of medical experts, that these deaths were not linked to the vaccine.
In a recent statement, the SAHRA stated that it had received 1 473 reports of adverse events following immunisations by 31 July.
To put this into perspective, these account for a 0.02% reporting rate of the almost 7.1 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines administered by that date.
The World Health Organization defines serious effects as: requiring hospitalisation, life-threatening, resulting in a congenital anomaly or birth defect and ultimately, resulting in death.
Mild side effects that may persist for a few days after vaccination - including headache, pain and redness at the injection site, or mild fever - are not considered adverse events.
Serious adverse after effects should be reported immediately by the patient’s healthcare profession so that an investigation can be done within 48 hours.
SAHPRA explained that the National Immunisation Safety Expert Committee would assess whether there is a “true relationship“ between a medicine or vaccine and an adverse reaction.
“To date, investigations for 32 deaths have been completed and causality assessment included, of which 28 were coincidental to vaccination (meaning the reaction occurred at the time of vaccination, but was not caused by it). This means that these deaths were not related to or linked to the vaccination.“
As Dewald Schoeman, UWC lecturer in Molecular Biology and Virology explained: “Factors such as the person’s age, pre-existing medical conditions, immune profile, and how many shots of the vaccine have been administered are also relevant and should be factored into such cases.
“No medical procedure or treatment is without risk, and, unfortunately, the Covid-19 vaccine is no exception. Although there are side-effects to the Covid-19 vaccine, they are typically short-lived and not severe. Any prolonged and/or severe side-effects should be reported, and the person should seek medical care.”
Schoeman said it’s important to remember that it can take at least 10-14 days for the immune system to build up good protection against the virus.
“So, if a person is exposed to the virus shortly after getting their first shot of the Pfizer vaccine, they can still become infected with the virus and develop Covid-19. This is often misconstrued as the vaccine being ineffective, or being the cause of the disease.”
Only after receiving both doses of the Pfizer vaccine is a person’s immune system stimulated to provide optimal protection against the virus, decrease the risk of hospitalisation, and decrease the risk of death from the virus, he added.