The benefits of taking the covid-19 vaccine far outweigh any potential risks, many believe. 

Wits health sciences students that have already received the Johnson & Johnson (J&J) vaccine through the Sisonke Programme are not concerned about its potential side effects 

The programme, a medical trial initiative and collaboration between the national department of health, the South African Medical Research Council and J&J, was suspended until further notice on April 13, amidst questions and concerns about the vaccine’s safety. This followed six women in the USA reporting rare blood clots after receiving the vaccine, one of whom later died 

Through the programme, launched at the end of February, healthcare workers and medical practitioners received J&J’s covid-19 vaccine, as did health sciences students, subject to conditions set out by Sisonke. 

President of the Wits Students’ Physician Society Radina Nenova told Wits Vuvuzela that hearing about the vaccine’s distribution being paused after she had already received it was slightly concerning at first, but after doing research, she was eventually reassured about her decision. “I’m definitely happy having had the vaccine, but I’m still gonna stay safe, have my shield, wash my hands, and protect myself,” she saidadding that the vaccine protected one from the more serious symptoms of the virus, but didn’t make one completely immune to it. 

Tanushri Pillay, a fourth-year medicine student said she did not regret taking the vaccine even after hearing its distribution had been paused. “Despite the rollout being halted, I am still relieved that I took the vaccine as it means I have some additional protection against the virus and as a patient-facing student, that does come as a huge relief. Being a new vaccine that was generated within a short space of time, I believed that the benefits outweighed the risks. This is something I still maintain and will look out for in the event new research and evidence shows otherwise,” said Pillay who had experienced side effects lasting 24 hours after taking the vaccine.  

The students told Wits Vuvuzela that there had been some confusion about signing up in the first few weeks as some students had not known whether to list themselves as health workers, since they had patient-facing rounds or to list themselves as university students. Michska Rajha, a fifth-year medical student recounted a time when she and other students were told by staff at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital not to come in for their vaccinations until all the staff at the hospital had received their shots, despite having vouchers to receive the vaccination. The students were able to eventually receive their vaccination, however, others are still waiting for the programme to resume 

Assistant dean of the faculty of health sciences, Professor Lindelani Mnguni, says that since the university doesn’t facilitate the programme, he does not know how many Wits staff and students have received the vaccine, but hopes that all those who are willing, do receive their vaccinations by the end of the semester on July 10. 

“At the start of the process, we invited Professor Ian Sanne (infectious diseases doctor) and we had a webinar with all our students and staff members, and he explained the entire process. [That was] over and above explaining how the vaccine itself works from a scientific perspective so that when students and staff sign up to receive the vaccine, they sign up for something that they understand,” Mnguni says, emphasising that taking the vaccine is not mandatory.

FEATURED IMAGE: Healthcare workers and students at the Sisonke vaccination site at Charlotte Maxeke Hospital, Johannesburg. Photo: Provided