Vaccine deaths probed



MASERU – The government has set up an expert committee to investigate circumstances surrounding the deaths of five people who allegedly died after receiving the Johnson & Johnson Covid vaccine. The Ministry of Health announced in a statement yesterday that they are aware and saddened by the passing of five people in Leribe following their inoculation.

The death of five people has prompted government, in collaboration with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and partners, to investigate the matter. The ministry further indicates that the team is already on the ground reviewing epidemiological facts regarding the five instances. “The government of Lesotho, through the National Expert Committee and the Adverse Event Following Immunization (AEFI), with the support of the WHO and partners, called a committee of international experts to support our investigation into the matter…” the statement reads in part.

It further states that a report will be complied in due course and request the public and media to give the investigation time. However, government says it will go ahead with the vaccine roll out in all districts of the country as scheduled and states that there are plans set up to reach remote areas.

“Severe adverse events following immunisation are very rare, Covid-19 vaccines have been safely administered to over four billion people globally and the benefits of protecting people from severe illness or death from Covid-19 disease outweigh any potential risk. For this reason, the government of Lesotho will continue vaccinating people in all districts and plans to reach remote areas are in place.”

The ministry reiterated that mild to moderate side effects after the vaccination are normal and says it signs that the body is developing protection against Covid-19. The side effects include but are not limited to a sore arm, tiredness, mild fever, body or headaches but are unlikely to last more than a few days. Any symptom that persists or worsens is to be discussed with a health care professional including people who received the shots and have concerns.

Lesotho began vaccinating her people on March 10 2021 when King Letsie III, Prime Minister Moeketsi Majoro and other dignitaries became the first to receive the AstraZeneca shots. Next in line were health workers as well as other essential services workers. Their shots were administered with 36 000 doses that were received through the COVAX Facility, an initiative by WHO to supply poorer countries with fully subsidised vaccines. The 36 000 doses were in June followed another 36 000 doses that were used to give those who vaccinated first their second dose.

Several companies and a private sector initiative, Sesiu sa letšoele le beta poho (unity is power), also contributed towards procurement of the vaccines and the vaccination programme is finally gaining momentum. The Sesiu initiative was set up with the aim to procure Covid-19 vaccines to complement the free vaccines the government has received under the COVAX facility. The solidarity fund had earlier managed to raise M25 million and secured the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, for the Lesotho vaccination roll out but failed after government refused to grant them authorisation.

The United States (US) also recently donated over 300 000 Johnson and Johnson vaccines as part of President Biden-Harris Administration’s global efforts to fight the Covid-19 pandemic. The government has also received vaccine donation from the government of China. With a population of just over 2 million, the country has so far recorded over 14 000 cases since registering the first case in May 2019. Since then, cases have sharply increased with the Delta variant believed to be contributing to the current increase.

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