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Gov’t probes vaccine deaths


Ntsoaki Motaung

The Government of Lesotho through its Health Ministry has taken a toll to probe the five deaths that emanated from the Covid-19 vaccine, Johnson and Johnson. 

According to the Minister of Health, Sekatle Sekatle, the government is aware of five people who are reported to have succumbed to the second roll of the vaccine last week, thus passing his condolences and promising lucrative reimbursements to the affected families after the investigations have been finalised.

The deaths have however not moved the government from its firm intent of proceeding with immunisation of the public despite the recorded deaths proven to have stemmed from vaccination as he cited five deaths as little figure compared to the 100, 000 that have received their Covid-19 jabs and still alive.     

This he said in the ministry’s press briefing projected to update the public about the deaths that have sent shocking waves across the nation.

“Already more than 100,000 people received their Covid-19 dose. The numbers of people alive after vaccination outweighs that of people who have died, that is the reason the government has decided to continue with vaccination despite the on-going investigations on the deaths of people who have died after receiving the vaccine,” he said.   

He stated the Ministry of Health is aware and deeply saddened by the deaths of five people in the Leribe district following immunisation with the Johnson and Johnson Covid-19 vaccine.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends and communities of the affected individuals,” he said.

He further stated that the government of Lesotho through the National Expert Committee on Adverse Event Following Immunisation (AEFIs) and, with the support of the World Health Organization (WHO) and partners, called a committee of international experts to support investigation into the matter. The team has been on the ground reviewing epidemiological facts and investigating.

“As we await the results of the investigations and final report, we ask the media and public to allow the team time to complete their important work,” he said.

Sekatle said severe adverse events following immunisation are very rare. Covid-19 vaccine has been safely administered to over four billion people globally, and the benefit of protecting people from severe illness or death from Covid-19 disease outweighs any potential risks. For this reason, he said the government will continue vaccinating people in all districts and plans to reach remote areas are in place.

“Mild to moderate side effects after vaccination are normal signs that the body is developing protection against Covid-19. Possible side effects include a sore arm, tiredness, mild fever, body or headaches. These are unlikely to last more than a few days, and can be managed with rest, drinking plenty of fluids and medication for managing fever and pain, if necessary. Any symptoms that persist or worsen should be discussed with a healthcare professional. Anyone who has received a Covid-19 vaccine and has any concerns should contact an appropriate healthcare professional or health facility,” he said.

He continued that the Ministry will unceasingly monitor the use of Covid-19 vaccines to identify and respond to any safety issues that might arise, and through that process to assure they remain safe for use.  

“Testing people for covid-19 or high blood before they are vaccinated will take us forever, but they should go for screening before testing. Questions asked for screening will help to see if the person is safe to vaccinate,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Director General of the Ministry of Health, Nyane Letsie indicated that people are sensitised about the vaccine before vaccinating.

“On health education people are told about the effects of the vaccine and what to do when one has developed them. We have advised our health centres to give health education regularly because people continue to circulate as there are many people visiting our centres for vaccination, and it is advised that it is provided hourly,” she said.

“It is important and is the reason why we say to every person that had contracted covid-19, not to get vaccinated unless they have not spent a month after recovery. If you feel like you have flu-like symptoms you should not get vaccinated,” she said.

“For Co-commodities diseases they are already being checked monthly at health facilities and when you are taking your medication correctly and under control you can vaccinate, but when you feel you are not okay and also when we look at your medical records and realise that they are not constant, we advise you to visit the health centre to be checked before vaccinating. This can only be determined when one has under gone screening before vaccine,” she said.

Letsie indicated that it advisable that, when a person has been in contact with a Covid-19 case they should wait at least a months after contact to ensure they are not infected and are safe to be vaccinated.

“We advise person to provide correct information about themselves during screening process before they get vaccinated. Testing people before they vaccinate is impossible,” she said.

The WHO Representative Dr Richard Banda shared the same sentiments as Sekatle in extending condolences to the affected families.

He assured the nation that Health Development Partners are working closely with the government to conclude investigations and make them as independent as possible.

 â€œGovernment will come back with the findings of the investigations but we are supporting the investigations with vaccine safety expects who have been in the country to work with the independent assessment committee which is local. So we are part and parcel of the investigations,” he said.

“So far the benefit of vaccine outweighs the potential risks that the vaccine might carry,” he concluded.       

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