Ghana has restarted its COVID-19 vaccination exercise with Johnson & Johnson’s (J&J) Janssen single-dose vaccine in 11 selected hotspot districts in the Greater Accra and Ashanti regions.

After halting vaccinations for more than 2 months due to shortages, the West African nation recently received 177,600 doses of the J&J vaccine, as part of the African Vaccine Acquisition Trust mechanism established by the African Union with support from the African EXIM Bank, the Africa CDC and the World Bank.

“Ablekuma Central, Accra Metro, Adentan, Ga south, Kpone Katamanso, Okaikoi North, Tema Metro, Asokwa, Kumasi Metro, Oforikrom and Kwadaso,” the Ghana Health Service (GHS) said are the selected districts to be involved in the exercise in the two regions between13th  and 20th August.

According to the health agency leading the fight against COVID-19, all persons 18 years and above are eligible for the vaccine except for pregnant women. Meanwhile, people who have received AstraZeneca and Sputnik V vaccines are advised not to go for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.


A pause in the use of J&J vaccine

On April 13, 2021, the US Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Food and Drugs Authority (FDA), announced a pause in the administration of the Johnson and Johnson COVID-19 vaccine due to reports of a rare & severe type of blood clot (Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome-TTS) in individuals after receiving the vaccine.

Soon after, South Africa also called for a suspension of the vaccine deployment in the country. According to South Africa’s Health Minister Zweli Mkhize, the decision was only precautionary since the country had not recorded any such incident.

However, on April 23, 2021, the US FDA in a press release lifted the pause and recommended the use of the vaccine.

As of August 6, 2021, more than 13 million doses of the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine have been given in the United States. CDC and FDA identified 39 confirmed reports of people who got the J&J/Janssen COVID-19 vaccine and later developed Thrombosis with thrombocytopenia syndrome (TTS).

According to the US CDC, reports of death after COVID-19 vaccination are also rare.


Sisonke Covid vaccine study

South Africa’s Sisonke Covid vaccine study has showed the J&J vaccine provides 57% protection against moderate-severe disease, 85% protection against severe disease and 100% protection against death.

The J&J vaccine was tested in a large trial of 477,234 South African healthcare workers, with the trial providing a good picture of how the vaccine works against the new 501Y.V2 variant, which is dominant in South Africa.

On August 5, 2021, the Africa Union under African Vaccine Acquisition Trust (AVAT) initiative began the shipment of 6.4m doses out of the 400 million J&J vaccine doses to AU Member States.

The first eleven countries to take delivery of some vaccines under the AVAT initiative include: Togo, Lesotho, Ghana, Tunisia, Angola, Cameroon, Egypt, Botswana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Mauritius.


Can breastfeeding mothers be vaccinated?

The World Health Organization has indicated that “this vaccine [J&J] can be offered to a breastfeeding woman who is part of a group recommended for the vaccination (e.g. health workers); discontinuing breastfeeding after vaccination is not currently recommended.”

Further, the WHO said it recommends the use of the COVID-19 vaccine in pregnant women only if the benefits of vaccination to the pregnant woman outweigh the potential risks considering there is very little data available to assess vaccine safety in pregnancy.

By Gifty Tracy Aminu