sputnik v

South Africans cry for Sputnik V amid J&J blunder – But, is it any good?

Andile Sicetsha - 14.06.2021

Sputnik V is not in South Africa’s immediate plans, despite the country’s continued struggles with J&J.

South Africa was hit with yet another hurdle in its vaccine rollout after President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed that at least two million doses of the single-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) jab were spoiled.

Outrage after two-million J&J jabs deemed useless

Acting Health Minister Mmamoloko Kubayi-Ngubane confirmed, on Sunday, that the two million doses awaiting distribution from Aspen Pharma in Gqeberha, Eastern Cape, were to be discarded following the US Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA warning that they may be contaminated.

This batch, the FDA revealed on Friday, was part of a large consignment that was produced at J&J’s Emergent BioSolutions facility in Baltimore, US. From what we understand, the two million doses languishing in Gqeberha may have been contaminated with ingredients from AstraZeneca‘s vaccine.

At this time, no further announcements have been made on what the contingency plan will be, as this blunder adds yet another delay to South Africa’s already snail-paced rollout programme.

SA citizens want Sputnik V, but is it any good?

Currently, the only approved-for-use vaccines in South Africa are from J&J and Pfizer-BioTech. Questions have risen about SA’s reluctance to utilising its diplomatic ties with China and Russia to obtain vaccine supplies.

Russia, for instance, has manufactured Sputnik V, which, according to Medical News Today, has authorisation for use in 68 countries.

The vaccine, also known as Gam-COVID-Vac was developed in Moscow, and is touted as a viral vector that produces lasting immunity against COVID-19.

The J&J vaccine, on one hand, uses multi-stranded mRNA (messenger ribonucleic acid) to deploy killer T cells to recognise the virus and prevent it from spreading, producing a 72% efficacy rate from a single dose (this is much less for variants spreading in other countries, including South Africa).

On the other hand, Sputnik V uses two doses to administer its antiviral genetic code. Within an interval of 21 days, patients are injected with two shots, to train the immune system to recognise COVID-19.

The first shot sends an adenovirus 26, or a viral vector, to the immune system. The purpose of this is to trigger a defensive response from our killer T cells. Three weeks later, the second shot, which contains adenovirus 25, heightens the memory of our cell defences and encourage the immune system to rapidly produce more T cells that bind to the virus and prevent it from spreading.

While Sputnik V’s vector-based immunity has seen its successes, the problem lies with its questionable data on human trials.

To this day, South Africa has not confirmed its intention to order supplies from Russia.