Committee to decide on Pfizer vaccine for adolescents

This follows an appeal by vaccine sceptics against SAHPRA’s decision to approve this Covid vaccine for teenagers

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The Covid vaccine is safe and effective, including for adolescents. Illustration: Lisa Nelson

The Minister of Health has announced a committee to review the approval of a Covid vaccine for adolescents by the South African Health Products Regulatory Authority (SAHPRA).

This follows an appeal by an anti-vaccination organisation called Free-the-Children Save the Nation against the decision in 2021 by the SAHPRA to approve the Pfizer vaccine for teens. In October the Minister opened up vaccination to children older than 12.

The Minister appears to be legally obligated to set up the committee. The Medicines Act says that any person “aggrieved” by a SAPHRA decision may appeal it. Then if the CEO of SAHPRA and the appellant cannot resolve the dispute, the establishment of this committee, by the Minister, is the next step.

The Act says that each party — the CEO of SAHPRA and the appellant — choose two people to sit on the committee (all must have knowledge of the subject matter). The Minister appoints a person with appropriate legal knowledge to chair the committee.

The committee therefore consists of five people. Professors Glenda Gray and Salim Abdool Karim, both experts on infectious disease and vaccination, have been chosen by the SAHPRA CEO. Free-the-Children has chosen two doctors sceptical of vaccination: Herman Edeling and Stephen Schmidt.

The committee will be chaired by well-known advocate Tembeka Ngcukaitobi. The committee hearing will take place on 11 and 14 February. A ruling has to be issued within 30 days of its first meeting.

If the ruling is in favour of SAHPRA, nothing changes. If the ruling goes against SAHPRA it may endanger the health department’s Covid vaccine programme for adolescents, though the department may be able to continue to provide the vaccine “off-label”, meaning without SAHPRA’s approval.

Either party can then take the ruling on review to court if it remains aggrieved.

Comment by GroundUp Editor

Free-the-Children is an anti-vaxxer organisation trying to deny parents the right to have their children vaccinated. They have chosen two committee members who, to put it in the mildest terms, have little credibility among their medical peers for their pseudoscientific views on Covid and vaccination. There is anger among health experts at this blatant attempt to undermine public health and freedom of choice by an extremely sinister bunch of people.

It is not at all clear whether Free-the-Children even has standing to bring the appeal. GroundUp understands that this issue has been raised by SECTION27 in related proceedings in the High Court.


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